'There's no worse life:' driver who killed five in Calgary drops parole request

CALGARY - An Alberta man convicted of killing five people when his cement truck smashed into the back of their car says he'll wait until his statutory release next month rather than face another National Parole Board hearing.

A two-member board panel was unable to reach agreement after a hearing Thursday on Daniel Tschetter's application for full parole. The board said another hearing would have to be organized quickly with two new panel members.

But Tschetter told reporters he would drop his request.

"I'm not going to go to another hearing," he said. "I'm going to go now until my (statutory release), because every time you go to a hearing you've got to realize you're opening up old wounds.

"The hearings don't get any easier. They get tougher."

An aunt of one of the young victims, 16-month-old Zachary Morrison, pointed out that reliving the memories of what happened is difficult for the families of everyone who died too.

"After all these years, it isn't getting any easier," said Tracey Grieder, who attended with her husband Herb. "We just wanted to come and make sure we can face him down and let him know that it still is painful for us."

Tschetter said he had considered not having Thursday's hearing in the first place since his release date was just a month away.

"In one sense I didn't want to, but four weeks early ... being out sooner was very tempting," he told the parole panel.

"You do get a little mental fatigue of being incarcerated. It can be difficult. I just want to go back to having a normal life."

Tschetter, 55, had already been spotted driving dangerously before his truck slammed into a vehicle stopped at a red light in Calgary in December 2007. The impact was so violent that pieces of the car were scattered for hundreds of metres along Macleod Trail, a busy north-south thoroughfare.

Little Zachary; his mother, Melaina Hovdebo, 33; Chris Gautreau, 41; and Gautreau's two daughters, Alexia, 9, and Kiarra, 6, were all killed on impact.

Tschetter was sentenced in October 2009 to 5 1/2 years in prison for manslaughter and obstruction of justice. He is also banned from ever driving a commercial vehicle again.

Last September, he was granted day parole, which requires him to live at a half-way house. He isn't allowed to drive, consume alcohol or contact the families of his victims. Tschetter will remain on day parole until his official release.

"I sincerely wish the families of the victims the best of the best," Tschetter said. "There is no prison sentence that I can serve that is good enough. I'm serving a prison sentence within and it doesn't get any easier. It's very difficult to manage, but I've learned to live with it."

Grieder said she doubted Tschetter's apology was sincere.

"He continues to live. He shows no remorse. He says what he needs to say to get the decision today," she said. "I think in all honesty he regrets what he did. How could you not? But I still think when he's talking he doesn't understand that he did something wrong."

Tschetter, who wiped away tears as he spoke outside the hearing, said that "sorry is an understatement. If anyone doubts me I'll challenge them to walk in my boots for two minutes."

"There's no worse life ... the pain, anguish, anxiety. And the pain is beyond description," he added.

His wife, Marie, told the parole board that the change she has seen in her husband is "remarkable."

"It's gotten easier today than it was 5 1/2 years ago. We have learned how to live with it," she said.

"I just pray the families of the victims can learn how to heal, too, because it's very difficult. You wouldn't want to wish this on anyone."

Witnesses said Tschetter had been speeding along a Calgary highway for 20 kilometres before entering the city. They said his massive truck swerved, abruptly switched lanes and sometimes passed vehicles on the shoulder. It eventually slammed nearly at full speed into the car.

Witnesses said Tschetter then got out of his truck and climbed a ladder to toss a vodka bottle into the back. He testified he was going to give the alcohol to a customer as a thank you, but panicked after the collision.

He explained away alcohol on his breath by saying he had mistaken the vodka bottle for water and taken a drink.

Tschetter assured the parole board that he wouldn't be making the same mistake again. He reported that he attends weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and is employed by a construction company.

"I will promise to everyone who is here that it will never happen again."

He said he hopes to eventually speak to high school students and impress upon them that overworking can be as much an addiction as drugs and alcohol.

He would also like to meet with the relatives of his victims.

"I don't think he should judge what we should do, and he has to let us figure out what we need to do," said Tracey Grieder.

"Again, I think he just said it for the court."

Tschetter's sentence is officially over on April 21, 2015.

"At that point the parole board will no longer have jurisdiction over him," said spokeswoman Cory Black.