More than a dozen times since last July, Harison Long-Randall's parents have made the 50-mile trek from their home near Grass Valley to the crowded hallways of the courthouse on the first floor of the Sacramento County jail in downtown.
Each time, the routine is largely the same. Wait in the hallway for the courtroom to open. Find a seat inside where they can see the man suspected of killing their son enter and stand in a courtroom jail cell. Then watch as his court appearance lasts only a few moments and is rescheduled.
Thursday morning was different.
Paul William Walden pleaded not guilty to murder, vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence and other charges connected to the July 16 Carmichael hit and run that is blamed for killing 21-year-old Long-Randall.
The plea set the stage for a March 15 preliminary hearing that will determine whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial, and Chris and Gail Randall said they were pleased that the case is finally moving forward.
"It was expected," Chris Randall said, sighing at the reality that he will be coming to court again for some time.
The charges against Walden, 31, stem from a hit and run at 10 p.m. in a well-lit crosswalk at Garfield Avenue and Engle Road.
A car estimated to be hurtling down Garfield Avenue at 80 mph with no lights on blew through a stop sign and struck Long-Randall and his 23-year-old girlfriend, Gemily West.
The couple had been out for a walk with Gemily's four dogs, and West was badly injured and the dogs killed.
Long-Randall lost a leg in the crash and survived in a hospital until dying nearly two weeks later.
Witnesses say the driver of the car never slowed down, before or after the impact.
Three days after the incident, authorities arrested Walden after spotting him driving a car with front-end damage they believe came from the crash. Officers said he was driving under the influence and on a suspended license.
It was the fourth time in the past decade Walden has been arrested on a DUI charge. He remains in custody without bail.
The case sparked an outpouring of anger and donations from around the nation, and since Long-Randall's death the Randalls have met with anti-drunk driving activists and are working on creating a foundation to help victims of trauma.
They also are arranging for a memorial bench in their son's honor to be placed in a public area not far from where he was struck.
But their primary concern is seeing the court case through.
"He looked like he thought he's dodged another one," Chris Randall said after Walden's brief appearance. "It's not going to stop us from being there next time."