A few weeks ago, Chris Joseph sat at his computer and attempted to describe the overwhelming grief he felt in losing his son. Jaxon was 20 and a player for the Humboldt Broncos. He was killed in the bus crash on April 6, 2018.
Mr. Joseph is a firefighter in Edmonton and a former National Hockey League player. The depth of emotion required to compose a victim-impact statement intimidated him.
Mr. Joseph procrastinated, like many of the victims' loved ones. However, after Jaskirat Singh Sidhu pleaded guilty in January to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, the statements had to be submitted quickly. Mr. Sidhu’s sentencing hearing had been scheduled for this week.
Mr. Joseph sat down and wrote about how he always dreamed of being a good husband and dad, and how the three happiest days of his life were when his children were born.
“By the end of one paragraph, I was crying so hard I couldn’t see the computer screen,” Mr. Joseph said Thursday night in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
He stopped, and a few days later began crafting a letter to Jaxon, rather than a victim-impact statement per se. At the same time, his wife, Andrea, did the same.
Most everyone struggled with the task. What to say? How to say it? How, even, to begin?
“I wanted Jaxon to be seen as a person,” Mr. Joseph said. “I wanted everyone to know he was more than a hockey player.
“I wanted Mr. Sidhu to see what the pain was like."
Ninety victim-impact statements were submitted during the proceedings that concluded on Thursday in Melfort, Sask. The maximum penalty Mr. Sidhu can receive is 14 years. The Crown has requested a prison term of 10. Mark Brayford, who is Mr. Sidhu’s defence lawyer, has asked for leniency.
The statements will be considered with other relevant facts when Justice Inez Cardinal issues her sentence on March 22.
Many of the submissions were read aloud through sobs and tears. It was the first time victims’ families had an opportunity to confront Mr. Sidhu. The 30-year-old was at the wheel of a semi-tractor-trailer when it ran through a stop sign and struck the Broncos bus as the team was en route to a playoff game.
The fatalities included 10 players between the ages of 16 and 21, two coaches, the team’s athletic therapist, a broadcaster, the bus driver and a high-school student on a job-shadowing assignment as a statistician. All 13 remaining passengers sustained traumatic injuries. Among them are two players that are paralyzed, and another still in hospital with a head injury.
When Mr. Joseph approached the lectern to read his letter, he looked directly into Mr. Sidhu’s face for the first time.
“I was trembling from my head down to my hands and my feet,” he said. “There were a couple of moments where I was afraid my knees would buckle.
“Afterward, it was like a massive weight had come off of me.”
Carol and Lyle Brons, whose daughter, Dayna, had been the Broncos athletic therapist, felt the same way. She was 24. Players looked up to and confided in her.
“She was like a mother hen,” Ms. Brons said. “They would tell her things they wouldn’t talk to the coaches about.”
Ms. Brons hesitated for a few days as she began her statement and then the words came more easily.
“It was challenging because it was extremely personal,” Ms. Brons said. “It was kind of a catch-22. There are things you want to share due to the impact, but some of them you really don’t want out there.”
Like any young woman’s mother, she dreamed of the day her daughter would marry. Before her older sister’s wedding, Dayna tried on her veil.
Ms. Brons imagined she’d watch Dayna walk down the aisle in their local church. Instead, she and Lyle arranged a funeral in a community ice rink to accommodate a larger crowd.
“We walked her down the aisle, but she was in a casket,” Ms. Brons said in her statement, sobbing,
Chris Beaudry was a first-year assistant coach for the Broncos during the 2017-18 season. He was following the bus on April 6 in his own car, and arrived at the scene 20 minutes after the crash.
Hours later, he was asked to identify bodies in a makeshift morgue. He balked at first, and then was told, “Chris, there is nobody else left to do it.”
In his victim-impact statement, Mr. Beaudry recounted how the coroner’s staff worked on bodies as he stood only a few feet away. He heard bones being snapped back into place.
He said he was eager to make a statement as a tribute to all the victims, and at the end, offered forgiveness to Mr. Sidhu.
As he did, Mr. Beaudry’s wife sat with their infant daughter cradled in her arms. They named her Lilly Brons.
Christina George-Haugan, whose husband, Darcy, was the team’s head coach, was full of anger as she began to write her victim-impact statement, but it subsided as she continued.
She said she was anxious before reading it in court, and relieved after.
Her late husband had strong religious faith and, knowing that, she offered Mr. Sidhu forgiveness.
“I have been forgiven for things when I did not deserve it, so I will do the same,” Ms. George-Haugan said.
Rene Cannon was a billet mother to two players who died – Logan Hunter and Adam Herold – and was asked to write victim-impact statements by both boys’ mothers. Ms. Cannon also read statement’s written by Logan’s mom, Shauna Nordstrom, and his sister, Shelby.
“I was extremely anxious, “ Ms. Cannon said. “I was worried I would not be strong enough to read my own statement or the statements entrusted to me. I wanted very much to be strong for them.
“As difficult as it was, I am grateful for having done it. In some ways, writing the words and reading them aloud, was healing. Reading the words of Shelby and Shauna felt like a way for me to 'look after' Logan's family as I know he would have wanted.”
Two days before the crash, Jaxon Joseph ate dinner with his parents in Humboldt and introduced them to his girlfriend, Quinn. Only that evening, while sitting in a booth at the Boston Pizza outlet, the handsome young man who dreamed about playing professional hockey had told Quinn he loved her for the first time.
The next morning, the Josephs had breakfast together. Chris and Andrea hugged and kissed Jaxon for the last time, and wished him luck in the game one night later, on April 6. They drove seven hours from Humboldt to their home in St. Albert, Alta., and looked forward to watching Friday’s game on TV.
Nine months later, they read victim-impact statements, and watched Mr. Sidhu rise in court and apologize.
“When he turned and faced us, I put my face in my hands and bawled,” Mr. Joseph said.
“I know a lot of people have offered forgiveness. That is not the Josephs. For him to say he is sorry and feels remorse is all very nice. But those are just words.”