Grieving families sobbed Monday as they heard how a semi-truck driver barrelled through an oversized stop sign with a flashing red light and failed to avoid a high-speed crash with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team.
An agreed statement of facts about the collision that killed 16 people on the bus and injured 13 more was entered in a Saskatchewan court as part of a heart-wrenching first day of a sentencing hearing for the truck driver. Roughly half of 75 victim impact statements to be submitted by friends and family members were read out.
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 30, of Calgary, sat next to his defence lawyers as court heard he was going between 86 and 96 km/h with a load of peat moss when he drove into a rural intersection north of Tisdale last April.
The sun wasn’t in his eyes. He wasn’t distracted by a cellphone. And he hadn’t been drinking or doing drugs. Weather and road conditions were also good, said Crown prosecutor Thomas Healey.
He left no brake marks.
“The driver of the semi-tractor unit failed to recognize that his vehicle was approaching an intersection and did not stop as required,” Healey said. ”The actions of Mr. Sidhu while operating the semi-tractor unit caused the collision.”
The driver of the Broncos bus, Glen Doerksen, 59, from Carrot River, Sask., hit the brakes and the bus skidded for about 24 metres, Healy added. It T-boned the truck at an impact of between 96 and 107 km/h.
The posted speed limit on both roads was 100 km/h.
Healey said there was no way Doerksen could have avoided the collision. The transport truck was fully in the intersection across all lanes of traffic. “The driver of the bus recognized the hazard as quickly as possible.”
Sidhu pleaded guilty earlier this month to 29 counts of dangerous driving. He was not injured in the crash.
Five days have been set aside for the sentencing hearing in a makeshift courtroom in Melfort, Sask. An event centre gymnasium is being used to accommodate about 100 family members, survivors and media.
Doerksen was among those who died. His daughter, Melissa, told court that his eyes lit up when he got the chance to drive around hockey teams. He loved to watch their games and share stories.
His death meant he wasn’t there for his son’s wedding in the summer and he missed playing Santa at Christmas.
“We’re working towards finding understanding and forgiveness because that’s what my dad would have wanted,” she said.
Sidhu occasionally wiped his eyes with a handkerchief, but has so far said nothing to the court or in public. Seven people sat in a row behind him reserved for his family and supporters.
Marilyn Cross, whose 27-year-old son Mark — an assistant coach with the Broncos — was killed, told Sidhu that she admired his courage in pleading guilty and wished him well sorting out his future. “Make the world a better place, just like our son Mark did.”
Bernadine Boulet of Lethbridge, Alta., cried as she said the death of her 21-year-old son, Logan, has left a constant ache in her chest.
Boulet noted her son wanted to become a teacher, like both his parents. Now she won’t get to help him set up his first classroom or watch him get married or play with his own children.
Toby Boulet said he doesn’t think the truck driver is an evil person.
“I need to tell Mr. Sidhu that I do not believe that you got out of bed on the morning of April 6 to cause a crash,” he said.
“I believe he feels tremendous remorse with all of the fiber of his being … I believe Mr. Sidhu wishes he could start April 6 all over again. I want the same. We all want the same.”
Robin Lukan told Sidhu that her 21-year-old son Conner was a handsome young man who lived for hockey. She last hugged and kissed him goodbye after watching him play in a game two days before the crash.
“I have no forgiveness,” she said, addressing Sidhu directly. “I want you to know you have forever destroyed the beautiful family I worked my entire life to create.”
Tom Straschnitzki, whose 19-year-old son Ryan was paralyzed in the crash, also had harsh words for Sidhu.
“All you had to do was stop,” he wrote in his victim impact statement that was read into court for him.
“Why? Why didn’t you stop? You didn’t even slow down.”
Chris Purdy and Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press