Guilty plea in bus crash

Truck driver in Bron­cos crash pleads guilty to 29 charges in­volved

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE -

MELFORT Scott Thomas was sit­ting nearby in the court­room Tues­day when a truck driver pleaded guilty to ev­ery charge against him in a high­way crash that killed 16 peo­ple on a ju­nior hockey bus and left 13 play­ers for­ever scarred by the dis­as­ter.

Thomas lost his 18-year old son, Evan, in the Hum­boldt Bron­cos col­li­sion and al­ways wanted the trucker to take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Stand­ing in the bit­ter cold out­side the pro­vin­cial court­house in Melfort, Sask., the Saska­toon fa­ther said he’s re­lieved the case is mov­ing on to sen­tenc­ing.

He isn’t wor­ried about whether Jaski­rat Singh Sidhu will go to prison for a long time.

“If he spends a day, if he spends 10 years, time is ir­rel­e­vant,” Thomas said, fight­ing through his emo­tions. “He was guilty. He ac­knowl­edged that. That’s all I needed to hear.”

Sidhu was driv­ing a trans­port truck loaded with peat moss last April when the rig and the Bron­cos team bus col­lided at a ru­ral in­ter­sec­tion. The team had been on its way to a Saskatchewan Ju­nior Hockey League game.

“I plead guilty, your hon­our,” Sidhu said as he stood be­fore the judge.

Guilty to 16 counts of dan­ger­ous driv­ing caus­ing death. Guilty to 13 counts of dan­ger­ous driv­ing caus­ing bod­ily harm.

He made no other com­ment as he left the court­house and put his head down as he stood next to his lawyer.

Mark Bray­ford, who re­cently took on the case, said more ev­i­dence still needs to be handed over to the de­fence, but Sidhu wanted to avoid fur­ther de­lays and plead guilty.

“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.”

Crown lawyer Thomas Healey said he might need up to five days for a sen­tenc­ing hear­ing, which is to be­gin Jan. 28. He would not com­ment fur­ther.

The max­i­mum penalty for dan­ger­ous driv­ing caus­ing death is 14 years. It’s 10 years for dan­ger­ous driv­ing caus­ing bod­ily harm.

Ev­i­dence from the crash and of the truck driver’s ac­tions have not yet been sub­mit­ted to the court.

The bus was trav­el­ling north on High­way 35 and the semi was west­bound on High­way 335, which has a stop sign.

A safety re­view done for the Saskatchewan gov­ern­ment was re­leased last month. It said sight lines at the spot are a safety con­cern and rec­om­mended re­mov­ing a stand of trees that ob­structs the view of driv­ers ap­proach­ing from the south and east — the same direc­tions the bus and semi­trailer were com­ing from when they col­lided.

The re­view fur­ther rec­om­mended rum­ble strips, larger signs and paint­ing “Stop’’ and “Stop Ahead’’ on the road.

The owner of a Cal­gary truck­ing com­pany that hired Singh was also charged af­ter the crash. Sukhman­der Singh of Adesh Deol Truck­ing faces eight charges re­lat­ing to non­com­pli­ance with fed­eral and pro­vin­cial safety reg­u­la­tions in the months be­fore the crash.

In De­cem­ber, the Saskatchewan gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced manda­tory train­ing for semi-truck driv­ers.

No de­tails have been re­leased about Sidhu’s train­ing, although a law­suit by the fam­ily of 16-year old Adam Herold, who was killed, al­leges it was in­ad­e­quate.

Tom Straschnitzki of Air­drie, whose 19-year-old son Ryan was one of two sur­vivors who were par­a­lyzed, 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?”

His wife added she’s wor­ried the guilty plea will lead to a lighter sen­tence for Sidhu.

“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.”

The fam­ily of 21-year old Lo­gan Boulet of Leth­bridge, Alta., said in a state­ment that “as much as this sounds crazy, we ap­pre­ci­ate his re­morse­ful­ness.”

The state­ment said the plea has “saved our fam­ily and all the Bronco fam­i­lies (from) ... the wa­ter cooler talk, the video im­ages of the crash site, the in­tri­cate de­tails that are pri­vate to the fam­i­lies and sur­viv­ing vic­tims of this crash, and a po­ten­tially ... long and ex­haust­ing trial.”

Bron­cos pres­i­dent Jamie Brock­man agreed that Sidhu has spared those griev­ing and strug­gling a painful trial. He said Sidhu is also suf­fer­ing.

“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.”

CP PHOTO KAYLE NEIS

Jaski­rat Singh Sidhu leaves pro­vin­cial court in Melfort Tues­day. Sidhu, the driver of a trans­port truck in­volved in a deadly crash with the Hum­boldt Bron­cos ju­nior hockey team’s bus, has pleaded guilty to all charges against him.

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