Saskatoon

'I hurt everywhere': Families describe pain and loss during Humboldt Broncos crash sentencing hearing

The families of 29 people who were killed or injured in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash have begun telling their stories in a Melfort, Sask., courtroom.

Hearing for Jaskirat Singh Sidhu scheduled to take place over 5 days in Melfort, Sask.

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu arrives in Melfort Monday morning for his sentencing hearing. (Omayra Issa/CBC)

Families of the people killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash shared victim impact statements in a makeshift courtroom in Melfort, Sask., on Monday. 

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 30, pleaded guilty earlier this month to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm in the crash that left 16 dead and 13 injured last April.

Seventy-five victim impact statements have been submitted to the Provincial Court, with 65 scheduled to be read during the sentencing hearing.

The parents of Logan Boulet, a player who died in the crash, were the first to read their statement.

"My chest aches ... my eyes fill with tears," said mother Bernadine Boulet, who said she's constantly reminded of her son. She said she can no longer work as a full-time teacher.

"I will not get to watch him experience the joys of being a father ... the list of things we will not experience with him will never end."

Boulet's father, Toby, said he believed Sidhu is sorry and wishes he could go back and do things differently during that fatal day. However, it's done, and his family has been destroyed.

"I just want to hold my boy," he said. "I hurt everywhere."

Outside the court, Mark Dahlgren, father of injured player Kaleb Dahlgren, told reporters Kaleb suffered a fractured skull, a puncture wound in his head, a brain injury and six broken vertebrae in his neck and back.

"We just felt that we really wanted the families who lost their loved ones to have the stage and be able to talk about their loved ones and what wonderful people they were," said Mark.

The father said it was important for families to directly talk to Sidhu.

"I hope that Mr. Sidhu is able to hear about how wonderful the people were that were involved in the accident — the people that survived and the people that passed away."

Mark Dahlgren had more to say to CBC reporters outside the sentencing hearing today. 

Mark Dahlgren, the father of a young man injured in the Humboldt bus crash, talks about what it means for the families to have a chance to speak in court about the children they lost. 1:24

Kaleb has recovered from his injuries and recently signed with York University's hockey team.

When court resumed after a break, the family of Conner Lukan read their statements. 

"I have many things I wish I'd done. I will never get that time back," said Lukan's mother Robin Lukan. "I feel like my heart's been ripped from my chest."

"I have no forgiveness," Robin said. "I want you to know you have forever destroyed the family I worked to create — I want you to feel the pain you have caused …. I will never forgive this wrong."

Mark Dahlgren, father of injured player Kaleb Dahlgren, spoke outside the Melfort court over the lunch hour. (CBC)

Later she added: "I trust that the decision made by this court will be just," she said. "I never want to think about this day again."

Lukan's uncle Jamie was also killed in a crash while on his way to a hockey game in 1996. Lukan's mother said in her statement that, some three weeks after the Humboldt crash, she went to check on Lukan's grandmother. She found her on the living room floor and performed CPR for 25 minutes.

"She couldn't live this pain again after losing her own son 22 years ago, now her grandson. She died that day of a broken heart."

The family of injured Bronco Nick Shumlanski had their statement read. Shumlanski's parents live near the accident site and were among the first people to arrive after the crash. Shumlanski's sister said the whole family suffers from anxiety. 

"This is our life now, and this should not be our lives," she said. "Maybe one day driving to my parents' house, or driving to work will be easy, but I know that today is not that day."

A statement from Michelle Straschnitzki, mother of injured player Ryan Straschnitzki, was also read out. 

"I cry daily over all that was lost that night," the statement said. 

"My hope is that lessons will be learned, wounds will be mended, and that no other family ever must go though the Hell that this has been."

The court was adjourned for the day at 4 p.m. CST.

Scott Thomas, father of Evan Thomas who died in the crash, said the family is moving to a new home. 

Thomas said in his statement that he can't bear the thought of clearing ice at the lake for a game, playing the card game Kaiser or visiting Evan's favourite places. Thomas said they are moving out of the family home. 

CBC Reporter Jason Warick will be tweeting live from today's events. On mobile? Click here.

Included in Robin Lukan's victim impact statement were photographs of Conner Lukan. Lukan's middle name was Jamie in memory of his uncle who also died in a crash on route to a hockey game.

Sidhu responsible

In an agreed statement of facts, both Crown and defence lawyers said Sidhu was solely responsible for the crash.

"The actions of the driver of the bus did not contribute to the collision. The actions of Mr. Sidhu … caused the collision." said Crown prosecutor Thomas Healey.

A forensic collision report noted the semi-trailer driven by Sidhu didn't brake at all at the intersection of Highway 335 and 35 before the Humboldt Broncos bus T-boned the semi as the truck travelled somewhere between 86 to 96 km/h.

Healey noted that Sidhu was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, nor was he on his cellphone at the time. 

Healey also noted there were numerous signs with flashing lights at the intersection, including a 1.5-metre wide stop sign.

He said Sidhu's view of the intersection was not impeded by any environmental factors like trees near the road or sun in his eyes.

Healey also noted the physical injuries suffered by the survivors, including a displaced jaw, a lacerated kidney and spleen as well as a fractured skull and brain damage.

Others suffered psychological effects such as PTSD, amnesia, depression, anxiety and a greater risk of stroke.

"These injuries may never heal," said Healey.

The Humboldt Broncos bus crash killed 16 people and injured 13 others. (Humboldt Broncos/Twitter)

A few families said the stress would be too great and they are staying away.

"We support everyone there, but we're not going," said Michelle Straschnitzki, whose son, Ryan, 19, was paralyzed in the crash.

"I think it'll be a very emotional time for a lot of people. For Ryan, it's probably best to keep our distance."

In a statement, the Broncos said this week will be trying for the team's families and the survivors of the crash.

"It's certainly an important part of the healing process for those closely affected to tell their stories and express how this horrible tragedy has impacted them," wrote Kevin Garinger, the former Broncos president and spokesperson.

"In the 10 months since this tragedy, our focus has been on assisting the survivors and the families and ensuring we help where ever we can – the Broncos' family will always continue to be there for them."

'So much damage'

Sidhu's lawyer, Mark Brayford, told reporters earlier this month that his client knows he ruined many lives and doesn't want to cause any more damage.

Straschnitzki and others say they're grateful to Sidhu for sparing them the trauma of a lengthy trial, but that there still needs to be a consequence.

"Fully believing with all my heart that Mr. Sidhu didn't set out to ... take the lives of 16 very beautiful souls and destroy the lives of 13 other boys, I just want this to never happen again," Straschnitzki said.

"People need to be made aware that one small action or inaction can cause so much damage."

The hearing is taking place in a Melfort gymnasium big enough to accommodate the families, friends, supporters, lawyers, media and others. Judge Inez Cardinal has set aside five days for the hearing. On Friday, Cardinal rejected a media application to broadcast portions of the hearing such as the lawyers' arguments.

University of Saskatchewan law Prof. Sarah Burningham said Cardinal's sentencing decision will have to be based strictly on the facts, despite the international attention the case has attracted.

"It's so unique and so tragic, just the scale of death," Burningham said. "We don't have many cases like that, if any. It makes it a very emotional case."

Burningham said the early guilty plea and a lack of intent to harm could be a factor. The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years in prison.

She said dangerous driving causing death has typically resulted in jail terms between two and five years in Saskatchewan.

"Our sentences are generally lower for offences that are about carelessly causing injury, and so this will be lower than something you'd see in something obviously a murder," she said.

The sentences for the 29 offences will likely run concurrently — at the same time rather than one after the other — especially since they all resulted from the same action, she said. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that the semi-trailer had T-boned the bus. In fact, the bus T-boned the semi-trailer as the semi sped through the intersection without stopping.
    Jan 28, 2019 1:31 PM CT

About the Author

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

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