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Road trip to Davis Cup match ended in tragedy for B.C. family

BC accident victims Matt, Leah, Jonathan and Emily Altizer

A B.C. family's trip to Vancouver to fulfill their life-long dream of attending a Davis Cup tennis match ended in tragedy on Thursday when their SUV veered across a highway and slammed into an oncoming 18-wheel tractor trailer.

Matt Altizer, his wife Leah, and their children, Jonathan, 14, and Emily, 12, and Mr. Altizer's sister Heather Kress were all killed in the accident, said Ms. Altizer's mother Lily Roberts. The driver of the tractor-trailer was unharmed.

"They were really family-oriented and loved by lots," Ms. Roberts said. "It's really devastating for everybody, but we have family and friends coming together. We're coping alright."

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Mr. Altizer worked as a systems manager and information-technology specialist at The Prince George Citizen newspaper, and his wife worked as a cashier at Zellers, she said. Emily was an A-student and an artist, and Jonathan loved skateboarding.

"It's an irreplaceable loss," said the newspaper's interim publisher, Colleen Sparrow, in a telephone interview. "He was an amazing man – intelligent, caring and compassionate. All of the good qualities a person could have."

She said he was an avid tennis fan and had been looking forward to the match in Vancouver. "It was his dream," she said. "He watches constantly. He wanted to see all his favourite players."

Tennis Canada planned a brief moment of silence for the family during Friday's opening ceremonies for the Davis Cup between France and Canada. "We want to pay our respects and ensure that Tennis Canada acknowledges it's a terrible accident and that we lost members of our tennis family," spokesperson for Tennis Canada Sarah Grossman said.

The collision between the northbound trailer and southbound SUV – which sparked a fire that consumed both vehicles – occurred at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The fire smouldered throughout the day, creating a sobering spectacle for residents of McLeese Lake, a community of about 300 people between Quesnel and Williams Lake, where the accident occurred.

"We know the SUV crossed the centre lane into the path of the truck. At this point, we don't know why," said RCMP Corporal Madonna Saunderson.

The investigation revealed that the roads at the time of the collision were bare and wet.

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Donna Forseille, coming upon the scene soon after the crash, said the large truck was in the ditch and across three lanes of the highway, engulfed in flames from its cab almost to the rear of the trailer.

Police continued to sift through the debris Friday to locate the victims' remains, Cpl. Saunderson said.

The B.C. Coroners Service will be bringing a specialist to Williams Lake to assist with forensic identification. A full report will be released once it has been completed.

Police are asking anyone who witnessed the crash, or travelled through the area prior to it, to contact the Williams Lake RCMP or Crime Stoppers.

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