MELFORT, Sask. – Friday, Apr. 6, 2018. The sound of metal colliding with metal shatters the silence on a rural Saskatchewan highway.
Sixteen people lost their lives and 13 people were injured when Jaskirat Singh Sidhu’s semi-unit and the Humboldt Broncos Junior A hockey team‘s bus crashed. Now, some 10 months later, a sentencing hearing for Sidhu– who pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm–will get underway Monday in Melfort.
Court is set to hear victim impact statements from players and family members of the people killed in the crash.
The tragedy triggered a domino effect of events–efforts to help the players and their families recover as well as implementing measures to prevent another crash of this magnitude happening in Canada. The nation came together to raise $15.2 million in a GoFundMe campaign that is the second-highest grossing GoFundMe, just behind the #MeToo efforts in the U.S.
Canadians wore jerseys in honour of the team on Jersey Day and people from around the world left their hockey sticks out on their porches, posting pictures to Twitter and Instagram with the hashtags #SticksOutForHumboldt and #PutYourStickOut.
Calls for more driver training, safety reviews, and seatbelt regulations on buses forced the government to explore new transportation rules.
The team and the crash were named Newsmaker of the Year and News Story of the Year, respectively.
Here’s a look back the major events that followed the crash:
The few days that followed
April 9, 2018: Three days after the crash, Saskatchewan officials apologized for mixing up the identities of one of the dead and one of the survivors. The body of Parker Tobin was mistaken for that of Xavier Labelle, who is injured but alive in hospital.
There was also a vigil in Saskatchewan that night. The team’s pastor gave an anguished speech, asking, “Where was God” in this tragedy?
“There’s two big questions that get raised when this happens: Why and where? Why did this happen? I would love to stand up here as a spiritual leader and say I have all the answers, but I don’t. I don’t know why. I don’t know why,” said Sean Brandow during his speech.
“The second question is: Where. Where was God?”
“I told my church this morning, I’ve never felt so empty in my life.”
The first of the charges
July 6, 2018. The driver of the truck, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, is arrested at his Calgary home and charged.
Sidhu was charged with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
“Mr. Sidhu was arrested without incident at his Calgary residence,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki told a news conference in Regina.
Sidhu was charged exactly three months after the crash–the truck driver was not hurt. He was taken into custody after the crash, but was released the same night.
RCMP said they will not release any details of the investigation or what they believe happened. The only thing the Mounties have said to this point is that the truck was in the intersection when the collision occurred.
In April, police said they had recovered driver log books along with engine control modules that had been sent to California for further analysis.
RCMP Supt. Derek Williams said their probe was exhaustive and included 60 core investigators combing through records, interviewing five dozen witnesses and using 3D technology to determine what happened.
“In order to lay these charges, we require evidence the motor vehicle was being operated in a manner that is dangerous to the public,” said Williams.
“We’ve looked at every aspect of the collision, including speed of the vehicles, point of impact, position of the vehicles, impairment, road and weather conditions and witness evidence.
“Every piece of information was carefully examined.”
A catalyst for change
July 9, 2018: Parents of Adam Herold, the youngest player killed in the crash, file a lawsuit.
They allege the truck driver had inadequate training and failed to stop at a flashing stop sign at the rural intersection. They also allege the bus company should have equipped the bus with seatbelts.
“No family should have to go through what we’re enduring,” said the Herolds.
“Our family loved each other, supported each other and did everything together — that’s what families are supposed to do.
“Adam’s death has taken this from us and we hope that by pursuing this legal action, no other family ever will have to experience the excruciating grief and profound sense of loss that has overtaken our lives.”
Shortly thereafter, Transport Canada announced it will soon require all newly built highway buses to have seatbelts. The federal department said it will make seatbelts mandatory on medium and large highway buses starting Sept. 1, 2020.
“We’ve all heard the message to buckle up over the years, and I think it’s time we brought this approach to highway buses too,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a release. “By having seatbelts on highway buses, we can help reduce injuries in severe collisions, such as rollovers, and improve safety for everyone.”
The Straschnitskis–the family of paralyzed Bronco Ryan–have been vocal on this issue.
“I think it should be enforced that you wear your seatbelts,” Ryan said. “If a bus doesn’t have one, then I’m not sure it should be on the road… If a tragedy like this doesn’t sink in, then we’re not doing anything good.”
The Straschnitzkis are hoping that bus companies and sports teams will do the right thing by providing transportation with seatbelts.
“It’s a movement we’re trying to start with the Buckle Up For the Broncos [campaign]. I think it’s something that’s going to resonate with people,” said Michelle Straschnitzki.
“Don’t wait two years,” added her husband, Tom. “The bus companies that are thinking ahead and getting this done, those are the ones you should use.”
Players return to the ice
Sept. 12, 2018: The Broncos play their first game of the new season with only two returning players. It was an emotionally-charged puck drop from the heart of the prairies where the Broncos would face off against the Nipawin Hawks–the team they were to play the night the crash happened.
Eight former players who were involved in the crash began the game with the ceremonial puck drop.
They lose 2-1 to the Hawks.
At that game, the team also raised banners honouring all the people who were on their team bus when it crashed.
“We know that, while the darkness is much less, it will never truly leave us as it holds the love that we have left for those who are no longer with us and those who have been impacted by this tragedy,” said former Broncos president Kevin Garinger, who was the face of the team in the aftermath of the crash.
“But we will forever cherish their memories and honour their legacy and, as hard as it has been, we have and will continue to move forward with them and because of them.”
Ryan Straschnitzki was not on the ice with the rest of the Broncos that night–but he did make his triumphant return to the ice for a charity fundraiser sledge hockey tournament in Calgary the weekend of Sept. 15.
Straschnitzki had been undergoing physiotherapy and rehabilitation since the crash, even spending a part of his rehab in the states.
“It was exhilarating….it was just amazing,” Straschnitzki said after his team won the game 5-4. He scored two goals and had an assist.
“It brought back a lot of memories of when I was five years old and laced up the skates. It was one of the happiest times of my life and I was back out there again and just enjoying the moment.”
He joked before the game began that he had never been much of a scorer and missed a wide open chance before the first one went in.
“I’m very proud that he did the whole game and now he can hit the net, I guess, because when he was standing up he always missed the net,” Ryan’s dad Tom said with a chuckle. “There’s another positive.”
Trucking company owner charged
Oct. 10, 2018: The owner of a Calgary trucking company involved in the fatal bus crash makes his first appearance in court. Sukhmander Singh of Adesh Deol Trucking did not retain a lawyer and was represented by duty counsel, who asked the matter be set over to Nov. 30.
Singh, 36, did not speak to anyone on his way into court.
Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason said Singh faces charges of non-compliance with various federal and provincial safety regulations.
“The charges follow an investigation that was completed by Alberta Transportation into the collision,” Mason said. “The investigation found multiple instances of non-compliance of various transportation regulatory requirements in a six-month period.”
Officials with Alberta Transportation said eight charges have now been laid against the trucking company owner.
They include seven federal charges: two counts of failing to maintain logs for drivers hours of service, three counts of failing to monitor the compliance of a driver under safety regulations, and two counts of having more than one daily log for any day. The eighth charge under provincial regulations alleges failure to have or follow a written safety program.
The maximum penalty for federal hours of service failing is $5,000 per offence, while the provincial charge carries a $310 penalty. A court can, however, use discretion to impose a penalty up to $2,000.
Adesh Deol Trucking remains suspended.
Dec. 3, 2018: The Saskatchewan government announces a move toward mandatory training for semi-truck drivers. Starting in March, drivers seeking a Class 1 commercial licence will be required to undergo at least 121.5 hours of training.
Joe Hargrave, minister for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, says the training will make the roads safer. Drivers will be instructed in a classroom, in a yard, and behind the wheel as part of the new program.
Ontario is currently the only province that has mandatory truck driver training consisting of 103.5 hours.
That’s a good first step according to the father of Adam Herod, but Russ Herold told CJME in Regina that he would like to see the rules adopted nationwide. Herold is also calling for graduated licensing with limits on mileage and on what semi-trailer combinations drivers are allowed based on how much time they’ve spent behind the wheel.
“There is no such thing as a border when you’re a truck driver nowadays,” he said. “Everybody sees that there’s lots of trucks. Truck traffic is just the way goods move these days and we need to ensure the roads are safe.”
He suggested experience has to be key in training.
“Experience behind the wheel is what’s going to make people better drivers. You’re not going on a thousand-mile trip your first trip out,” Herold said.
“We all share the road and an accident could happen in 50 miles as easy as it can in 500 miles.”
Dec. 12, 2018: A safety review is released recommending 13 changes to make the intersection safer, including the removal of trees on private property that obstruct the view of drivers heading in the same directions that the bus and truck were.
A guilty plea: ‘I don’t want to make things worse’
Jan. 8, 2019: The driver of a transport truck pleaded guilty to all charges against him
“I plead guilty, your honour,” Sidhu said as he stood before a judge in a court in Melfort, Sask.
“His position to me was, ‘I just want to plead guilty. I don’t want a 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 said more evidence still needed 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.”
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years. It’s 10 years for dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Remembering those in the crash
Here are those who died in the crash:
Logan Alexander Boulet: A 21-year-old defenceman from Lethbridge, Alta.
Adam Scott Herold: A 16-year-old defenceman from Montmartre, Sask.
Logan William Hunter: An 18-year-old forward from St. Albert, Alta.
Jaxon Christopher Joseph: A 20-year-old forward from St. Albert, Alta.
Jacob Paul Benjamin Leicht: A 19-year-old forward from Humboldt, Sask.
Conner Jamie Lukan: A 21-year-old forward from Slave Lake, Alta.
Logan Evan Schatz: A 20-year-old forward from Allan, Sask.
Evan Thomas: An 18-year-old forward from Saskatoon, Sask.
Parker Allen Tobin: An 18-year-old goalie from Stony Plain, Alta.
Stephen Wack: A 21-year-old defenceman from St. Albert, Alta.
Tyler Anthony Bieber: A 29-year-old play-by-play announcer from Humboldt, Sask.
Dayna Brons: A 24-year-old athletic therapist from Lake Lenore, Sask.
Mark Travis Cross: A 27-year-old assistant coach from Strasbourg, Sask.
Glen Doerksen: A 59-year-old bus driver from Carrot River, Sask.
Darcy Haugan: The team’s 42-year-old head coach from Humboldt, Sask.
Brody Joseph Hinz: The team’s 18-year-old statistician from Humboldt, Sask.
And those who were injured:
Graysen Cameron: The 19-year-old forward from Olds, Alta., can’t play hockey again after suffering back injuries in the crash. He has become an assistant coach for the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, a top-tier, triple-A hockey team in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
Brayden Camrud: The 21-year-old forward from Saskatoon overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in one of his arms and neck issues. He has returned to play with the Broncos this season.
Kaleb Dahlgren: The 21-year-old forward from Saskatoon suffered a fractured skull, a puncture wound in his head, a brain injury and six broken vertebrae in his back and neck. He has committed to play for the Lions hockey team at York University in Toronto.
Bryce Fiske: The 21-year-old defenceman from La Ronge, Sask., is studying commerce and playing hockey for the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
Morgan Gobeil: The 19-year-old defenceman from Humboldt, Sask., suffered a brain injury in the crash. His family said in a statement in September that he is recovering but would still be in hospital for a few more months.
Matthieu Gomercic: The 21-year-old forward from Winnipeg had minor injuries from the crash and has also joined the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. He is studying kinesiology.
Xavier LaBelle: The 19-year-old defenceman from Saskatoon suffered a fractured skull, a concussion, internal bleeding and 20 broken bones in the crash. He has joined the Saskatoon Blades, his hometown Western Hockey League team, as an assistant to the coaches.
Layne Matechuk: The 18-year-old defenceman from Colonsay, Sask., suffered a brain injury in the crash. He was in a coma for a month, but has since left the hospital and his family said in a statement in September that he was getting stronger every day.
Derek Patter: The 20-year-old forward from Edmonton has returned to play with the Broncos this season.
Nick Shumlanski: The 21-year-old forward from Tisdale, Sask., walked away from the crash with minor injuries and is playing hockey for the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Tyler Smith: The 20-year-old forward from Leduc, Alta., had a broken collarbone, a broken shoulder blade and nerve damage down his left arm. He returned to play with the Broncos for about a month in the fall, but has since decided to step away from the team so he can continue his recovery at home.
Ryan Straschnitzki: The 19-year-old defenceman from Airdrie, Alta., was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash and continues his recovery with his family. Straschnitzki played in an exhibition sledge hockey charity game in Calgary in September and is hoping to eventually represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.
Jacob Wassermann: The goalie from Humboldt, Sask., who turns 19 on Wednesday, was paralyzed from the naval down. His dad said in November that he has started to have movement in his hips and his glute. He has also turned to sledge hockey to keep his on-ice dream alive.