Saskatchewan RCMP have laid charges in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
The news comes three months to the day that the Saskatchewan junior hockey team’s bus collided with a semi-trailer at the intersection of highways 3 and 335, north of Tisdale, on April 6.
Sixteen people, including 10 players, died as a result of the crash. Thirteen players were injured.
At a news conference in Regina Friday, RCMP said the 29-year-old semi driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, was arrested at his Calgary home hours earlier, around 10 a.m. He is now in police custody.
Sidhu is charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and 13 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm.
The Criminal Code of Canada states the maximum penalty for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death is 14 years in prison, while a conviction of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Singh will make his first court appearance at a provincial court in Saskatchewan next week. Details on the hearing are still to be determined.
RCMP Supt. Derek Williams spoke about the scope of the investigation, explaining a core team of 20 investigators were assisted by 100 others over the past three months.
“What we can say about the evidence is limited, as the matter is before the courts,” Williams said.
“In order to lay these charges, we required evidence a motor vehicle was being operated in a manner that was dangerous to the public.”
Williams said police looked at the speed of the vehicles, the point of impact, position of the vehicles, road and weather conditions, impairment and witness evidence.
RCMP could not speak on any further details, including whether a stand of trees near the intersection was a factor in the crash.
In all, investigators conducted more than 60 interviews, took over 6,000 photographs and reviewed numerous documents including the driver’s log book.
“We’ve also used 3D technology to capture evidence through unmanned aerial vehicles (drones),” he said.
Williams noted that since the investigation was focused on the driver, he could not answer questions regarding the Calgary-based trucking company that contracted the semi.
Sukhmander Singh, owner of the Calgary-based trucking company, said in April that the driver was going to the doctor and receiving counselling.
Singh said he was basically out of business after Alberta Transportation ordered Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd. to keep its only other truck off the road.
‘Bittersweet:’ Families respond
Scott Thomas, who lost his 18-year-old son Evan in the crash, spoke to 650 CKOM over the phone from Moose Jaw Friday before the news conference.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet moment, for sure. It confirms what I knew right from the start when we were at the crash scene that night,” he said.
The Saskatoon man was following the team’s bus that evening as the Broncos headed to a playoff game in Nipawin.
“Every day is a battle, for sure. It’s getting worse, it’s getting harder. Now this is going to bring all the feelings we had right after the crash right back to the surface,” he said.
“The nature of the tragedy is a blessing, that we have other people to go through this with, but it’s also always there – and it’s not going away for a long time.”
Thomas said he’s been taking things one day at a time, and continues to think of the two players – Morgan Gobeil and Layne Matechuk – still recovering in hospital.
“They’re going to be there for a while yet,” he said. “There so many souls that got harmed by this, it just continues to take your breath away every day.”
Thomas said so far, he’s been happy with the way RCMP have handled the investigation, adding police have been in consistent contact with families about significant developments.
As for charges being announced three months after the tragedy, Thomas said time – for him – is irrelevant.
“I just want to make sure it’s done right. Clearly that was their attitude all along too,” he said.
“You see a pattern with these things now that it maybe takes a little bit longer than some people in the public (think).”
Tom Straschnitzki, whose son Ryan was paralyzed from the chest down, told The Canadian Press he was relieved charges were laid.
“It’s finally come to charges being laid, so we are very happy about that because we don’t want that to be ignored at all,” Straschnitzki said.
“It should put a little closure to the first step and the second step is … let’s see what the courts do and find out what exactly happened.
“I think that’s what people want to know. What exactly happened? How it did happen and why it happened.”
Straschnitzki said he and his wife, Michelle, hadn’t thought much about charges in the three months since the crash.
“We were just too focused on Ryan and just had the faith in the RCMP that they did a lot of hard work to get it done. I guess we’ll just wait and see in the courts.”
Full statement from the Humboldt Broncos
“The Humboldt Broncos’ thank the RCMP and its investigators for their work. Our organization has faith in the justice system and we will be watching closely as this court process plays out.
We will have no further comment on the investigation or the resulting charges until the process has concluded.
Our primary focus continues to be supporting the survivors, families and others that were directly impacted by the tragedy on April 6th.
We ask that media maintain and respect their privacy as this matter proceeds through the courts.”
Man misidentified as driver on social media
After the name of the accused was released Friday, a man with the same name — who also lives in Calgary — was inundated with social media messages about the case.
The barrage prompted Jaskirat Singh, who lists himself as a pre-board screening officer at Calgary International Airport, to publish a public post clarifying the situation.
“I have been wrongfully tagged in this incredibly tragic incident because I share the same name as the driver. Please understand that my heart breaks for these kids too,” he wrote.
“Clearly not me. It was irresponsible to find the first profile that matched the name and tag it for blame. My Facebook page is blowing up with hateful msgs and I ask it stop.”
In a brief phone conversation with 650 CKOM, Singh added he’s concerned the undue attention could cause problems with his employment.
Several commenters on the misidentified man’s post admitted to jumping to conclusions.
“Sorry! I Googled the driver’s name and this is the first hit,” one man wrote.
—With files from 650 CKOM’s Chris Vandenbreekel and Canadian Press reporter Bill Graveland.