In the shadow of Humboldt: Manitoba family waits to hear fate of semi driver charged in daughter's death
Gurjant Singh, 24, faces charges in the deaths of two teens in 2017, but family fears he won’t be punished
Gypsy Hunking doesn't make Sunday dinners anymore.
Her 19-year-old daughter, Carley, loved to come home every Sunday for a meal with her family, who live about 175 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, just north of Alonsa, Man.
"She was lots of fun. She had a great sense of humour. She loved her family — that was huge for her — and she had tons and tons of friends," Hunking said.
Carley and her boyfriend, Dorian Roulette, 17, lived in Portage la Prairie but made the trip north, more than 100 kilometres back to the tiny community along the west side of Lake Winnipeg, nearly every weekend.
Aug. 27, 2017, was no different from any other Sunday. They were hosting a birthday party for a baby boy.
"He was turning one that day, so her and Dorian had come out for his birthday and there was also a Sandy Bay powwow," Hunking said.
"That was the last time we saw her.
"The cops knocked on our door about 12:30 that night, and said that she was in an accident and that there was no survivors."
The two teenagers were in a southbound Kia Forte on Highway 16, turning left onto the Trans-Canada Highway, when a westbound semi-trailer truck carrying a load of heavy pipes ran a red light at the intersection and hit the car, police said at the time.
The teens, who were the only people in the Kia, were pronounced dead at the crash scene.
Hunking, who has two other children, said she hasn't been able to host a Sunday dinner since.
Family expects fine, licence suspension
The driver of the semi, Gurjant Singh, was 23 when he was charged with two counts of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, as well as a provincial Highway Traffic Act charge of careless driving causing death.
The B.C. truck driver is scheduled to enter a plea and be sentenced on April 17 in Portage la Prairie, but Hunking fears the punishment won't be what she hoped for.
She expects that the criminal charges against Singh will be dropped, and he will face the Highway Traffic Act offence instead, which carries the possibility of a fine and a driver's licence suspension of up to five years, as well as the possibility of up to two years in prison.
Gypsy Hunking talks about the pain of losing her daughter Carley:
"When we talked to the Crown attorney back in January, they told us that [Singh] was getting a three-month suspension and a fine," Hunking said.
"Why isn't our daughter's life and Dorian's life worth fighting for? Why slap on the wrist with a ticket and a fine? I just don't understand how people can drive and kill somebody and there not be any consequences," Hunking said.
None of the charges against Singh have been tried in court. Singh, who has been out on bail since 2017, was to make a plea on March 14, but the case was held over.
At the March 14 hearing, the Crown prosecutor told a judge the defence had agreed to a resolution. The judge will decide whether to accept any joint recommendation from the Crown and the defence.
Singh's lawyer hasn't responded to attempts to contact him for comment.
Watching Humboldt unfold
While Hunking has waited more than a year and a half to hear the fate of the man who killed her daughter and Roulette, whom she calls her son-in-law, she's had to watch a similar tragedy unfold in the media.
On April 6, 2018, Calgary-based truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu failed to stop his semi-trailer truck at a highway intersection in Saskatchewan. He hit a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, killing 16 people and injuring 13.
Last month, Sidhu was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in January to 29 counts of dangerous driving causing death or bodily harm.
- 'Families have been torn apart': Truck driver who caused Humboldt Broncos bus crash gets 8-year prison term
Aside from the number of people killed and injured, Hunking sees a striking similarity between the two cases.
"Because either way [the driver was supposed] to stop," she said.
"I don't understand. Why are two lives any less important?"
With Sidhu pleading guilty, the families were spared a lengthy trial. Hunking wishes something similar had happened in the case involving her daughter.
"[The] Humboldt accident, for instance, that happened a year ago. It's done and dealt with. You know, it's going to be two years in August that Carley and Dorian lost their lives," Hunking said.
"I'm not saying I want bad things to happen to him, but why would he not plead guilty? I just find not pleading guilty to something is him saying 'I didn't do nothing wrong.'"
'Why do they get to drive again?'
The Humboldt crash sparked calls for mandatory training for semi drivers, and now Hunking is questioning the training of the driver who hit her daughter and Dorian.
"You hear a lot, especially now, with all these accidents [that] have been happening, about drivers not being trained properly," she said.
"You can't just give somebody a licence one day and put them in a truck like that. Like where is the responsibility?"
She admits she doesn't know anything about Singh's training — and she doesn't know if that will ever be disclosed without a trial.
Tougher penalties are needed, not fines and licence suspensions, Hunking said.
"Lots of people are losing their life for [semis who fail to stop] and I'm not saying all semi drivers are like that, but the ones that it is happening to, why do they get their licence back? Why do they get to drive again?"
Concerns raised about intersection
Since 2012 there have been three fatal vehicle collisions causing seven deaths at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 16. Over a five-year span, from 2012 to 2016, there were 11 crashes there that caused eight injuries, provincial officials said.
"You would think that with all of this happening, they would be pushing it even more to get that overpass in," Hunking said, referring to calls for changes at the intersection.
"People die there and they just move on, but us as families don't get to move on."
Just over a week before Roulette and Hunking were hit and killed, an eastbound minivan carrying a family of five, making a left turn at the same intersection, was hit by a westbound semi.
Two boys, age 10 and 13, and a 36-year-old man died. The driver, a 35-year-old woman, and an eight-year-old boy suffered serious injuries. No charges were laid.
At that time, calls for improvements to the intersection were made, including calls for an overpass. Since then, "interim measures" have been taken, a provincial spokesperson said in a statement to CBC.
"Manitoba Infrastructure is looking at options that are both cost-effective and will increase public safety in terms of permanent infrastructure improvements to the intersection."
The interim improvements include adding protected left-turn lights on the Trans-Canada and advanced traffic signal warning lights at the intersection, the spokesperson said.
Victim impact statement
Until recently, Hunking didn't think she could face the man accused in her daughter's death.
"I guess I was scared to look him in the face and ask him why he did what he did, because am I gonna get the answer or is that just going to haunt me all the time?"
She's now changed her mind and the family has prepared a victim impact statement to read in court.
"It's going to be two years in August and we still haven't had a court date where we can actually go in and look him in the face and tell him how we feel," she said.
"I hope when they hear our impact statement that the judge will think differently. I pray that I have the strength to read it while I'm in there. I cry for our daughter every day."