‘I PLEAD GUILTY, YOUR HONOUR’
As the man responsible MELFORT for the deaths of 16 people and injuries of 13 others in a Saskatchewan highway tragedy pleaded guilty to each charge laid against him, Scott Thomas felt at least some sense of relief.Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 29, was originally scheduled to appear Tuesday in Melfort provincial court for defence election. Instead, he entered guilty pleas to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm in connection with the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that captured the hearts and attention of millions of people around the world last April.The courtroom was hushed as Sidhu spoke, mere feet apart from Thomas and other Broncos family members.“I plead guilty, your honour,” said Sidhu, dressed in a black suit with white dress shirt and tie.Thomas, whose son, Evan, was among the people killed in the collision, said it’s “irrelevant” to him whether Sidhu spends one day or one decade in custody.“He was guilty. He acknowledged that. That was all I needed to hear,” Thomas said as he attempted to hold back tears outside the Melfort courthouse.“The rest of the sentence doesn’t matter to me ... It’s not going to bring Evan back. I’ve got to spend the rest of my life with it. He’s got to spend the rest of his life with it.”Thomas said he has always tried to teach his children about accountability and responsibility. To hear Sidhu “use his own words to plead guilty, it’s powerful ... Now we can move forward with the next part of this,” he said.The April 6, 2018, collision happened at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team was heading to Nipawin for a playoff game and trucker Sidhu was driving his semi back to Alberta from Carrot River.Sidhu’s lawyer, Mark Brayford, said even though the defence is expecting more evidence to be handed over, his client wanted to plead guilty to each of the 29 charges. After attending his initial court date in July, Sidhu did not appear in person for hearings in August, two in October, and one in each of November and December.“His position to me was, ‘I just want to plead guilty. I don’t want you to plea bargain. I don’t want a trial,’ ” Brayford said outside court. Sidhu stood silently beside him with his head down.“Mr. Sidhu advised me: ‘I don’t want to make things any worse. I can’t make things any better, but I certainly don’t want to make them worse by having a trial,’ ” Brayford said.“He wanted the families to know that he’s devastated by the grief that he’s caused them.And he’s overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy and kindness that some of the families and players have expressed to him in spite of the fact their grief is entirely his fault.”The Broncos, in a statement, said the organization is relieved that the charges have been resolved without a drawn-out trial.Broncos president Jamie Brockman called the guilty pleas “a positive step in the healing process for the survivors, grieving families, the team and our community.“I commend Mr. Sidhu for taking responsibility for his actions and sparing the survivors and the families the anguish and turmoil of rehashing this tragedy in court,” Brockman said in a statement.“I know Mr. Sidhu has also been deeply affected by this tragedy. His careless actions will haunt him for the rest of his life, and I’m sure it is a relief to move forward.”Brandon Bieber, whose brother, Broncos radio broadcaster Tyler Bieber, died in the collision, described the guilty pleas as “a relief.”“Finally! Although this doesn’t change anything for our loved ones lost, we don’t have to go through the pain of seeing this month after month. What a relief!” he wrote on his Facebook page.The case was adjourned to Jan. 28. The Crown said it might need up to five days for sentencing. The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years. The maximum for dangerous driving causing bodily harm is 10 years.Michelle Straschnitzki, whose son, Ryan, was paralyzed in the crash, said she’s worried the guilty plea will mean a lighter sentence.“I’m glad he won’t be putting everyone through a lengthy, exhaustive and heartbreaking trial,” she said. “However, I also hope that by doing so, he doesn’t get an absurdly reduced sentence, as per our justice system.”Lawyers might agree on what the range of sentence should be, “but we don’t have precedent for an accident of this nature,” said Saskatchewan defence lawyer Aaron Fox, who is not involved with the case.In Saskatchewan, the starting point for dangerous driving causing death when no alcohol is involved is about two years, Fox said, with sentences rising based on aggravating factors. In a case where multiple deaths happen in one crash, as opposed to multiple crashes, the sentences will often run concurrently, Fox said.Tom Straschnitzki, Ryan’s father, said he wants more answers about what happened and what the trucker was thinking.“You’re taught when you’re young: red light, green light, and look both ways,” he said. “Why didn’t he do that? Was he just in a hurry? Did he have to get a load in right away? Was he pressured by his bosses?”A safety review of the rural crossroads done by a consulting firm for the Saskatchewan government was released last month. It said sight lines are a safety concern at the spot.A stand of trees, mostly on private property, obstructs the view of drivers approaching from the south and east — the same directions the bus and semi-trailer were coming from when they collided, the review said.It recommended negotiating with the landowner to remove the trees, and also suggested rumble strips, larger signs and painting “Stop” and “Stop Ahead” on the road.The report’s authors determined that six collisions had taken place at the intersection between 1990 and 2017 and another 14 happened on roads nearby.One of those collisions was deadly. In 1997, six people were killed when a pickup truck heading east failed to stop on Highway 335 and was hit by a southbound tractor-trailer.In December, the Saskatchewan government further introduced mandatory training for semi-truck drivers. Starting in March, drivers seeking a Class 1 commercial licence are to undergo at least 121.5 hours of training.Previously, Saskatchewan Government Insurance accredited driving schools, but training was not mandatory.The owner of the Calgary trucking company that hired Singh was also charged after the crash. Sukhmander Singh of Adesh Deol Trucking faces eight charges alleging non-compliance with federal and provincial safety regulations.Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League president Bill Chow, making clear that he didn’t want to speak for the 29 families directly affected by the crash, said that while Sidhu’s guilty pleas finish one part of the court proceedings, that process is not “by any means … complete yet.”The Broncos tragedy captured worldwide attention, in large part because it was so relatable: who hasn’t travelled with a sports team or school band or class trip on a bus? Hockey sticks were placed outside homes and buildings across the globe as a show of support for the Broncos. More than $16 million was raised for families directly affected by the crash.Toby Boulet, whose son Logan died in the crash, said the family is relieved by Tuesday’s outcome but “also saddened at the death of our son and the other 15 members of the Bronco family, and the 13 members that have been scarred and injured for life,” he said.“Furthermore, as much as this sounds crazy, we appreciated his remorsefulness and the fact that we’ve saved our family and all the families, and the community of Humboldt … the intricate details that are private of this crash, and a long trial.”Boulet, a native of Lethbridge, signed his organ donor card just weeks before the crash and that decision wound up saving six lives.Myles Shumlanski, whose son Nick survived the crash and is now attending university and playing hockey in Prince Edward Island, was among the Broncos family members present in the courtroom. He said he was surprised when Sidhu entered the guilty pleas, calling it “a very hard moment, very emotional moment.“This is one step toward rebuilding everybody’s lives. This is one step that is done,” Shumlanski said.“That’s the first I’ve seen a little bit of remorse out of him … He did feel remorse, but still, that will not turn back the clock.”
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, left, leaves court with lawyer Mark Brayford after pleading guilty to 29 charges related to a crash last April that killed 16 people and injured 13 aboard the Humboldt Broncos team bus. Sidhu told his lawyer he didn’t “want to make things any worse.”
The mother of one of the Humboldt bus crash victims says she’s worried that semi driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu will receive a lighter sentence after pleading guilty on all 29 counts.
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