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Hardest case: judge says he struggled with sentence for driver who killed teens

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. – An Alberta judge choked back tears as he told a packed courtroom how he struggled to decide a just punishment for a driver who caused a crash that killed four high school football players.

A fifth player was pulled from the wreckage and survived, but suffered brain injuries and had to relearn to walk and talk.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice William Tilleman said Wednesday the case of Brenden Holubowich is the toughest he’s ever had to face.

The boys simply didn’t have to die, he said.

“Drinking and driving is sad, senseless, stupid and selfish,” Tilleman said, even though impaired driving was not a charge to which Holubowich pleaded guilty.

In the end, Tilleman sentenced Holubowich to three years in prison and banned him from driving for three years when he is released.

It was the same sentence recommended by Crown and defence lawyers after Holubowich stood up Tuesday and pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Tilleman didn’t automatically approve the plea bargain. Instead, he told the court he needed to sleep on it.

Holubowich, 23, had been facing 16 charges, including impaired driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident.

His pickup truck collided with a car carrying five members of the Warriors football team from Grande Prairie Composite High School in October 2011.

Walter Borden-Wilkins and Tanner Hildebrand, both 15, and Matthew Deller and Vince Stover, both 16, were killed. Zach Judd, now 17, was pulled from the wreckage and spent 11 days in a coma.

He told court during the sentencing hearing that he struggles with anger and depression. And as the only teen to survive the crash, he often thinks of suicide.

The judge said he will never forget the emotional victim impact statements submitted in court by the boys’ parents. They described how they will miss watching their sons become men, get married and raise babies.

He noted one statement from Darren Davidson, Walter’s step-father, who wrote that he holds no contempt for Holubowich and hopes that everyone will be able to forgive him.

Tilleman said he also feels for Holubowich and his family. He said the young man is not the typical criminal he sees in court. He had no record, enjoyed a perfect driving history and has studied hard as an apprentice heavy-duty mechanic.

The judge also suggested Holubowich appeared genuine when he stood in court and apologized to the families.

“I could see in his face — if not in his words — his acceptance for what happened and not blaming anyone else.”

Tilleman said the gravity of the offence had him considering a longer period behind bars. But he eventually decided the three-year term was fair and in keeping with similar cases.

Many of the boys’ relatives expressed their disgust with the sentence. Zach’s mother, Desiree Judd, said outside the courthouse that the justice system completely failed the families.

“I really had hopes last night that the judge would come back with something better, but I guess we were all let down.”

Holubowich’s family also gathered outside the courthouse and, for the first time, spoke publicly about the crash. His mother, Teresa Bateman, who cried throughout the sentencing hearing, read a statement.

“We cannot imagine the loss or the grief that you’ve experienced and no matter how much we might pray, hope or wish that it isn’t so, this tragedy can never be reversed and for this we are sorry,” she said, her voice breaking.

She said she hopes other young drivers will learn how important it is to be careful behind the wheel. And she hopes the families of the victims will eventually forgive her son.

“Even if it’s a little bit at a time.”

Court heard Holubowich had been drinking with co-workers at a Grande Prairie bowling alley and was driving as fast as 151 km/h on the way home to the nearby town of Wembley.

The football players had just left a party outside the city. But within minutes, their car and three others pulled off a highway and into the driveway of a nearby business. One by one, they all quickly made U-turns to go in the other direction.

Their car, the last to make the turn, was struck as it straddled the centre line.

Holubowich never stopped to see if the boys were OK or to call 911. He ran on foot to his workplace, an oilfield transportation company, where RCMP found him an hour later.

Autopsy results show the boy driving the car, Matthew, had no alcohol or drugs in his system.

Defence lawyer Chris Millsap said outside court that although his client had been drinking, there was no evidence he was drunk when he got behind the wheel.

Millsap pointed out that earlier in the night, Holubowich had driven a drunk friend home and carried him up some icy stairs. The man’s girlfriend testified Holubowich appeared sober.

Millsap said his client agreed to alcohol tests but they were inconclusive. He doesn’t understand why the judge repeatedly referred to the dangers of drunk driving in the case.

“I understand the concerns about drinking and driving, and I understand how alcohol was involved here to a degree,” Millsap said. “But this is not a case of drunk driving or impaired driving.”

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To all of the Grand Prairie families and Janel,s family I am at a loss for words. I had hoped that the Judge would look at all of the evidence, the public out cry and set a president to tell the public that Dangerous Driving and Impaired Driving is not acceptable. He needed to tell those that have broken the law and who have made the choice to put the public at risk that they will be held accountable for their actions.

Sadly we have a Judge that didn’t have the morale courage or fortitude to stand up and do what a judge should have done. Was he afraid the accused would appeal? So what if they did, Sir you as a Judge had one opportunity to tell the world that if people choose to put the public at risk and take the lives of innocent people you will be held accountable for your actions and you will be sent to jail to do some serious jail time as you committed the most unspeakable act of taking the lives of 4 innocent young boys and have left a 5th young boy with both physical and emotional scars.

Sadly Justice William Tilleman has shown all of Canada that a person can have a few drinks then flee the scene of a collision while leaving 4 young men to die and leave another seriously injured. A person can run away and never call 911 for assistance and as a court of law the most punishment you will receive is 3 year jail term. What isn’t mentioned is that sentence of 3 years is not what Brenden Holubawich will actually serve. As is is going to be serving Federal Time he will be eligible for a halfway house in 4 months, day parole at 6 months and he can apply for a full parole at 9 months. As a Canadian Citizen I am outraged that this is all are so called legal system values a human life. To all of the families who have suffered the loss of your children I apologize to you all as many other Canadian families do not agree with this sentence handed down.

To all of the Federal Government officials who are the law makers you have a responsibility to protect the public and every single person has a right to get home to their family and friends. As they too have their right to life. They should have the expectation that they shouldn’t have to worry about a dangerous driver or an impaired driver is on the roadways. In the sentencing decision today you gave this young man a get out of jail free card. I wonder if the collision caused by a dangerous or impaired driver caused the death of a Judge’s loved one or a government official loved one would the sentence be the same? I think not.

I would like to remind people that accidents do happen every day to mechanical problems or weather conditions but when someone is speeding or has been drinking and they are driving by being reckless they have made the choice to put the public at risk. A vehicle becomes a 2000 pound weapon.

If they had used a knife or a gun or car they all become weapons and do incredible damage. If you use the first two weapons you will be facing a sentence of 7 to 10 years for a homicide. If you use a 2000 pound car as a weapon you will only do 3 years. I wish someone would explain that logic to me as I and thousands of other Canadians do not understand. We are very lucky to live in Canada it is to bad that we do not have a legal system that is protecting innocent people. It is called the criminal justice system because it is protecting criminals over and over again. Canada it is time to wake up and stand up for all of the innocent people who have had their lives taken by a dangerous or impaired driver as they no longer have a voice.

Please go to the Families For Justice Facebook page and download the Petition. We have collected over 20,000 signatures from other Canadians who agree that the laws need to change. We are asking the Federal Government of Canada to implement a 5 year minimum mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of impaired driving causing a death. We are also asking the Federal Government to change the charge of impaired driving causing a death and redefine it to vehicular manslaughter. This is what this crime was and what he should have been charged with.

There are many of us who have already had our children and or loved ones lives taken from our families. We can not bring our loved ones back but we can and are trying to fight for possibly your family member. Impaired drivers and dangerous drivers do not care who they may collide with. No one ever expects to be in a collision but when you add speed and alcohol it will have life changing devastating affects every single time. I can guarantee anyone reading this if you are not already living in this nightmare or have had a loved murdered then you have no idea what these families are going through. Even if you think you can try to imagine what this would be like I can guarantee you can’t even come close to the pain that these families are living with and they will have to live with this the rest of their lives. Their families will never be the same. Every single one of these people are forever changed.

Mr. Brenden Holubawick life will be changed for about 9 months. He received a short sentence. The families received a lifetime sentence and their children were given a death sentence. Life is all about choices and when some make the wrong choices and they should be held accountable for their actions.

Justice Tilleman and all of the Federal Government of Canada tell me who has received the most severe sentence. It is the families and the boys that are being punished the worst. As they were all let down by a Justice system that never showed up in the courtroom to protect 4 young innocent young men after they were murdered by Brenden Holubawick

February 27, 2013 at 10:41 pm