A truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison by a judge who said she believed his remorse was sincere, but she had to consider the serious consequences for so many people.
Tears began to flow almost as soon as Judge Inez Cardinal began her decision and continued afterwards as families sombrely gathered outside court.
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary had pleaded guilty in January to 29 counts of dangerous driving for killing 16 people and injuring 13 others on the junior hockey team’s bus.
The 30-year-old stood quietly and looked at the judge as he was sentenced. His punishment includes a 10-year driving ban. He also faces deportation to his home country of India after he serves time.
“Families have been torn apart because of the loss,” Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask. “They are prone to depression, anxiety or outbursts.”
She also spoke of the survivors, who she suggested “are putting on a brave face in an attempt to be strong.”
Marilyn Cross, whose son Mark was an assistant coach with the team, said seeing Sidhu go to prison for his death brings no comfort.
“The sentence is neither here nor there for me. Our son isn’t coming back. Nobody wins in this,” she said.
Raylene Herold and her husband, Russell, were among some family members wearing Broncos jerseys in court.
“For us, our life doesn’t change. Adam doesn’t come back,” she said as she broke into tears. “We have a lifetime sentence.”
The 16-year-old, the youngest Bronco on the bus, was to take over the family farm one day. His father said the upcoming one-year anniversary of the April 6 crash will be another painful reminder of what they’ve lost.
“We have emptiness, devastation … There’s an empty future there,” he said.
Cardinal said the loss expressed in nearly 100 victim impact statements was staggering and she approached the sentence knowing “nothing can turn back the clock.”
She went on to note that Sidhu barrelled through a stop sign as he drove a “huge, heavy, deadly” semi and the accident could have been avoided.
“Mr. Sidhu had ample time to react … had he been paying attention,” she said.
The Crown wanted Sidhu to be sent to prison for 10 years, while the defence said other cases suggested a range of 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.
“We’re disappointed. We knew we were going to be disappointed,” said former NHL player Chris Joseph, whose son Jaxon was killed. “There’s no number that would have made me happy.”
Mark Dahlgren, whose son Kaleb suffered a brain injury, said the sentence was “one more step in the process.”
“We have an anniversary coming up that is going to be very, very tough. And I hope after that maybe we can get back to whatever our new normal is for everybody.”
Sidhu said nothing as he was taken into custody, handcuffed and escorted by officers to a waiting SUV. His uncle from London, England, later gave a statement to reporters.
“On behalf of my family, I would like to express my sincere sympathy to the 29 families,” Chanan Singh Sidhu read. “We also feel indebted to the families and the Canadian public at large for the support, sympathy and understanding they have shown … for my nephew and our families.”
Cardinal began her decision by reading aloud each victim’s name. She said the people on the bus that afternoon were “not defined just by their association with hockey.”
“They were gifted athletes, community leaders, and team builders with hopes and dreams for the future … Some were dreaming of having a family, while others were already raising their families.”
Cardinal said several factors, including his remorse and guilty plea, saved Sidhu from a maximum sentence of 14 years.
But she pointed out he had missed several signs about the upcoming rural intersection and his lapse of attention had been prolonged.
“This was not a momentary loss of attention. He had ample time to stop his unit. Mr. Sidhu wasn’t speeding but his speed was excessive.”
Court previously had heard that Sidhu was going between 86 and 96 km/h when he passed four signs warning him about the crossroads before he came up to an oversized stop sign with a flashing light.
Defence lawyer Mark Brayford had told court Sidhu was distracted by a flapping tarp on the back of his load of peat moss.
Sidhu had been hired by a small Calgary trucking company three weeks before the crash. He spent two weeks with another trucker before heading out on his own for the first time just days before the crash.
The Humboldt Broncos hockey team issued a statement soon after the sentence.
“Having … the sentencing complete is a big step in the healing process for the survivors, grieving families, our organization and the community of Humboldt and surrounding area,” said president Jamie Brockman.
Factors judge considered in sentencing
In her ruling, Cardinal cited several considerations she made in her decision.
- Sidhu entered early guilty pleas to all charges.
- He apologized in court to the victims and their families. Cardinal said she believes his remorse is sincere.
- Although not physically injured, he will suffer psychologically.
- He is 30 years old with no previous criminal history and a clean driving record.
- Alcohol or drugs were not involved.
- Sidhu had not been using his cellphone while driving at any point before the collision.
- He faces deportation after his sentence.
- Sidhu was driving a large commercial vehicle and missed five highway signs, including a large stop sign with a flashing light.
- He had ample time to stop but did not brake, reduce his speed or take evasive action.
- His actions killed 16 innocent people and caused life-altering injuries to 13 other innocent people.
- The devastating impact of the crash and its aftermath on families, friends and survivors cannot be measured.
- The injured face lifelong challenges as a result of physical and psychological injuries.
- “The impact of this catastrophe will reverberate across Canada for years to come,” said Cardinal.