‘I have taken the most valuable things of your life’: Driver in Humboldt Broncos bus crash tells hearing

The truck driver who pleaded guilty in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash told families and friends of the victims that he was sorry during the final day of a sentencing hearing in a Melfort, Sask., courtroom.

Sixteen people were killed and 13 injured in April 2018 when the Humboldt Broncos team bus collided with a semi-trailer driven by Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 30, who was driving for a Calgary-based trucking company.

“I take full responsibility for what has happened. It happened because of my lack of experience,” Sidhu told the court as the victims’ families and friends cried, looked down or stared at him.

“I can’t imagine what you are going through, what you’ve been through,” he said. “I have taken the most valuable things of your life.

“I will be so so so so so sorry from this day.”

Sidhu pleaded guilty to multiple counts of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily injury earlier this month. Judge Inez Cardinal has reserved her sentencing decision until March 22 at 10 a.m.

The Crown attorney in the case is asking for a 10-year prison sentence for Sidhu, to be followed by a 10-year driving ban. The prosecutor wants a 10-year sentence for each count to be served concurrently.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Sidhu was solely responsible for the crash.

A forensic collision report found he didn’t brake at the intersection of Highway 335 and 35 before the crash.

The report said Sidhu’s view of the intersection was not impeded by any environmental factors like trees near the road or sun in his eyes.

Prosecutor Thomas Healey said Sidhu had more than enough time to slow down and stop, stating it would have taken the semi more than 100 metres to stop, but the first warning of the intersection was 400 metres away. Healey said Sidhu entered the intersection “like a rocket.”

“This was not just an accident,” he said. “This was a crime.”

He said it wasn’t a case of momentary distraction, noting there were four signs in advance of the intersection, as well as a large stop sign with a flashing light. A car was also stopped directly across from him on the highway, waiting for the Broncos bus to pass.

“How do you miss all those signs?” asked Healey. “How is that possible?”

The Crown submitted 23 court cases for reference, citing one judgment which said a high number of deaths should result in a harsher sentence, and that the amount of harm caused should be relevant.

“All he had to do was stop. Just stop,” he said. “And we wouldn’t be here today.”

Healey said Sidhu’s guilty plea should be a mitigating factor, and believes he is remorseful.

The truck driver also has a clean driving record and no prior criminal record.

More than 90 victim impact statements were presented to the court by friends and families of victims during the sentencing hearing, which began on Monday.

The memorial for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the site where 16 people died and 13 were injured when a truck and the team bus collided. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The emotional statements detailed the anguish families have gone through over the past year. While some families said they forgive Sidhu for his role in the crash, others said they would never be able to.

‘He beats himself up every day’

Defence lawyer Mark Brayford painted Sidhu as an inexperienced driver who got in over his head.

According to Brayford, Sidhu had started working for a small trucking company three weeks before the crash. He spent two weeks training with another person in the vehicle and spent the final week driving alone.

Brayford said Sidhu now knows he had too much responsibility for a novice driver, especially since he was driving a double trailer.

“[It’s] a classic case of his inexperience working against him,” said Brayford. “He’s the first to acknowledge it’s inexcusable.”

The defence team did not offer a concrete prison sentence recommendation but didn’t agree with the Crown’s recommendation for a 10-year driving ban.

After reviewing other dangerous driving cases, Brayford said most people would be surprised at the relatively short prison sentences handed out for criminal driving offences.

Brayford noted any sentence will likely mean Sidhu will no longer be allowed to live in Canada because of his status as a recent permanent citizen.

The lawyer said prior to the crash, Sidhu had gotten lost and stopped to checked a map 50 kilometres away from the crash site.

Sidhu was also worried about tarps on the back of his load that had become loose, which he also stopped to fix.

As a result, Brayford argued, Sidhu “wasn’t zoned out” or suffering from “highway hypnosis” from driving.

The lawyer said he didn’t know why Sidhu didn’t notice the multiple warnings before speeding through an intersection and colliding with the Broncos bus.

“There was no evidence that he chose to drive through that stop sign,” he said.

“I wanted to know why this happened. I’m disappointed to tell people I can’t say. He doesn’t know.”

After the crash, Brayford said Sidhu “didn’t even know what happened,” and didn’t know why his semi was on its side.

“He beats himself up every day,” said Brayford. “Why did I not see the signs? Why did I not stop?”

Since the crash, many people across the country have spoken out about the need for better trucking regulations. Brayford said Sidhu agreed with the need for reform but isn’t using that as an excuse for what he did.

Sidhu grew up on a farm in India and followed his girlfriend to Canada in 2013. He studied for a business diploma and got married two months before the crash.

The lawyer also addressed a report prepared  by Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Highways and presented to the judge, which outlined 70 violations of federal and provincial trucking regulations by Sidhu in the 11 days leading up to the crash.

The violations centre around missing data in Sidhu’s log book, where he failed to account for time on and off the job, to account for the city or province where he spent each shift and to document whether his vehicle had any defects.

The report’s writers said had he been stopped and inspected, he would have been placed under a 72-hour out of service declaration and would not have been allowed to drive his truck.

Victim impact statements play important role

Russell Otter, a retired provincial court judge in Ontario, said victim impact statements played an important role while he was determining a sentence.

“It gave a real impression … of what the impact, regardless of the offence, was on the victim, the victim’s family and relatives,” he said.

With 25 years of experience on the bench, Otter said he always took the statements very seriously.

“When we get to the sentencing process, there are many different aspects and components that the law requires us to consider,” he said. “But the input by the victim was always an important factor.”

Otter said Judge Cardinal has a daunting task ahead.

“I don’t envy the judge’s task, quite frankly,” he said. “But I am certain she will take into account all those particular statements. That’s why they’re in court and they’re part of the record.”

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