The young couple were on their way home from the airport, having just picked up her mother off a late flight in from Germany, when the early morning tragedy struck on the Perimeter Highway last Saturday.
The grandmother had not yet had the chance to meet her youngest two granddaughters.
A car driven by a 26-year-old Winnipeg woman was travelling west in one of the highway's eastbound lanes near St. Anne's Road when it hit the minivan driven by Robert Hartfelder of Steinbach head-on at about 2:30 a.m.
Hartfelder, 26, his wife Angelika Petrich, 24, Petrich's mother, 63, and the unidentified 26-year-old driver of the other vehicle all died at the scene, RCMP said. The young couple had three daughters under the age of five.
On Saturday morning, a piece of bumper still lay in the grassy ditch, near black skid marks on the asphalt.
"It takes a while to process that you will never see this individual ever again," Hartfelder's employer Stephane Massicotte, 33, told the Free Press.
Massicotte co-owns Rolly's Septic Service along with his father, Roland. Hartfelder worked for the company, which serves rural municipalities to the east and southeast of Winnipeg, as a driver and operator for two years.
"It takes a while to process that you will never see this individual ever again." – Stephane Massicotte
"The night before, I spoke to him, when he came back to my shop — ‘Have a great weekend’ — I knew he was going to pick up his mother-in-law that night from the airport and how excited him and his wife were to see her," Massicotte said.
"They saw her, but… the grandmother was never able to see his two younger kids."
Hartfelder was described as a hard-working family man.
"He loved coming to work but he also loved to be at home with his family, his wife, to do things with them.... He comes from a big family, and family was a big thing for him," Massicotte said.
"Robert was just a very positive guy. He’d come in the morning and look at everything as a positive — (he had) a positive way of looking at life, in general."
"They saw her, but… the grandmother was never able to see his two younger kids." – Stephane Massicotte
Massicotte said COVID-19 restrictions prevented the Hartfelders and his young family from spending time together.
"We didn’t get the chance to get the families together like we wanted to because of all the restrictions… but we were hoping to get to that point," he said.
"Even though I was his boss and I’m a bit older than him… I have young kids and he had young kids, so he was the type of guy, the family, we would have hung around with."
Hartfelder's sister called to let the small company — five full-time workers, including the father-and-son owners — know what happened. It was a difficult day for Massicotte.
"You’re in shock, you’re in disbelief — like, you don’t even think it’s true," he said.
“You think about the kids, the parents are gone. It was devastating....” – Stephane Massicotte
"You think about the kids, the parents are gone. It was devastating… just thinking about him as an individual and not being able to see him ever again, and how affected his family will be from this, thinking about where the kids are going to go."
Earlier this week, a man who knows Hartfelder's father well set up an online GoFundMe page to raise money for the family's funeral expenses. The friend set a donation goal of $45,000. More than $80,000 has been collected so far.
The investigation to determine whether alcohol or drugs were a factor in the collision is ongoing, expected to take some time, RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said in an email to the Free Press Wednesday.
Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer at the Winnipeg Free Press.