‘I PLEAD GUILTY, YOUR HON­OUR’

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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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