MELFORT, Sask. — The driver of a transport truck involved in a deadly crash with the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team’s bus pleaded guilty Tuesday to all charges against him.
"I plead guilty, your honour," Jaskirat Singh Sidhu said as he stood before a judge in a court in Melfort, Sask.
Sixteen people lost their lives and 13 players were injured when Sidhu’s semi-unit loaded with peat moss and the Broncos bus collided in rural Saskatchewan last April.
Sidhu was charged with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
"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,"’ Sidhu’s lawyer, Mark Brayford, said outside court, his client 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, 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.
"He wanted the families to know that he’s devastated by the grief that he’s caused them," Brayford said. "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."
Scott Thomas, whose 18-year-old son Evan died in the crash, sat near Sidhu in court and said the guilty plea meant a lot to him.
"All I’ve ever told my kids is speaking about accountability and responsibility and to hear him use his own words to plead guilty, it’s powerful," Thomas said, fighting his emotions outside court. "Now we can more forward with the next part of this."
Crown lawyer Thomas Healey said he might need up to five days for a sentencing hearing, which is to begin Jan. 28, and would not be commenting until after that. The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years. It’s 10 years for dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Michelle Straschnitzki, whose son Ryan was paralyzed in the crash, said she is 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 told The Canadian Press. "However, I also hope that by doing so, he doesn’t get an absurdly reduced sentence as per our justice system."
Thomas said he’s not worried about the time Sidhu could serve.
"When he said, ‘Guilty,’ to me, I have my closure," he said.
"If he spends a day, if he spends 10 years, time is irrelevant. He was guilty. He acknowledged that. That’s all I needed to hear.
"The rest of the sentence doesn’t matter to me. It really doesn’t. It is 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."
The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League when their bus and Sidhu’s rig collided at an intersection not far from Tisdale, Sask.
The bus was travelling north on Highway 35 and the semi was westbound on Highway 335, which has a stop sign.
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 relating to non-compliance with federal and provincial safety regulations.