A mother’s tears and a father’s anguished cries punctuated the quiet of a makeshift courtroom in central Saskatchewan on Monday as heartbroken families began speaking about the overwhelming loss experienced in the aftermath of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
The tragedy on April 6, 2018, killed 16 and caused extensive injuries to all 13 remaining passengers. The dead included 10 hockey players between the ages of 16 and 21, two coaches, an athletic therapist, a broadcaster, the bus driver and a high school student on a job-shadowing assignment as a statistician.
The driver of the semi-tractor-trailer that caused the accident has pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary faces a possible maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The 30-year-old sat beside lawyers in the gymnasium at the Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort as victim-impact statements were read and the sentencing portion of his trial began.
Proceedings were moved from a smaller provincial courthouse in the town of roughly 5,000 people, partly to accommodate interest. Rows of chairs have been set up for spectators from the front to the back of the gymnasium. Seventy-five victim-impact statements have been submitted to the court.
Bernadine and Toby Boulet were the first parents to address Justice Inez Cardinal, telling the judge about the pain caused by the loss of their 21-year-old son, Logan.
Ms. Boulet had to choke back tears even before she could begin. Her husband, standing beside her at a lectern, tried to comfort her by gently placing his hand on her back.
“I would give anything to wake up and have everything in the last nine-and-a-half months reversed,” Ms. Boulet said. “I am constantly surrounded by reminders of Logan; many make me smile and remember my amazing, kind son. Often, it is just little things that are the most difficult and my chest aches and throat constricts and tears fill my eyes.”
The accident occurred as the bus was carrying the Junior-A-level Broncos from Humboldt to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game about two hours away in Nipawin. The Broncos trailed the Hawks three games to one in a seven-game series and were determined to win that night and prolong their season.
Players were dressing aboard their bus when it collided with a truck driven by Mr. Sidhu moments after he had run through a stop sign at the intersection of Highways 335 and 35. According to an agreed statement of facts, the semi-tractor-trailer was travelling at 86 to 90 kilometres an hour when it failed to heed a stop sign with a flashing red light atop and barrelled through the intersection. The bus driver, Glen Doerksen, hit the brakes and attempted to take evasive action, but T-boned the semi.
The impact caused massive damage to the front of the bus. Fourteen of the 16 people who died perished at the scene. Logan Boulet and Dayna Brons, the athletic therapist, died in hospital.
Bernadine Boulet said Logan fought for 19 hours before he was removed from life support. He had recently signed an organ donor card and six of his organs were harvested. When news of that got out, it sparked a wave of organ donations across the country.
“I struggle with the fact Logan will not be coming home again," Ms. Boulet said. “I struggle knowing our lives and stories will continue, but Logan’s will not.”
His father, Toby, wrote the victim-impact statement for Logan and went to the cemetery to read it to him. He could not get through it, he said, because he was crying too hard.
“Where do I start?” he asked, his voice cracking and breaking again and again. “Where is the middle? Is there an end to the constant emptiness, along with the pain and suffering caused by the tragedy of Logan’s passing and [so many] others left with physical and emotional scars for life?"
Mr. Boulet addressed Mr. Sidhu. Seven family members and friends sat in a row of chairs directly behind him.
"I need to tell Mr. Sidhu that I do not believe that he got out of bed that morning to cause a crash that would ultimately kill our only son. I do not believe Mr. Sidhu is an inherently evil person that feels no remorse. I believe he feels tremendous remorse.
“I believe that Mr. Sidhu wishes with all the fibres of his being that this tragedy would never have happened. I want the same, but Mr. Sidhu and I know that cannot happen.”
As the day wore on, more grieving parents, relatives and loved ones came forward to address the court.
Robin Lukan, whose 21-year-old son, Conner, died in the crash, described how her family drove nine hours from their home in Slave Lake, Alta., to identify his body. Conner, who was traded to the Broncos at the beginning of the season, had a skull fracture and broken neck.
“I touched his hair,” Ms. Lukan said. “There was a seven-inch gap in his head on the left. Conner’s brother fell on his knees on the floor. My daughter hugged his lifeless body.”
The family had driven to Humboldt only days earlier to watch a playoff game.
“I wished I had held Conner and never let him go,” his mother said. “I feel like I am going through the motions of life without living.”
Ms. Lukan said she is unable to forgive the truck driver whose actions killed her son.
“The hardest thing a mother can do is bury her child,” she told him. “I have no forgiveness. I want you to know who Conner is and how much he is missed. I want you to understand the pain you have caused.”