‘Everybody’s going to feel it:’ Broncos families prepare for sentencing hearing

The hardest thing Chris Joseph ever had to do was get through the first 48 hours after his son died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

The second hardest, he says, happens this week when he and his wife attend a sentencing hearing for the truck driver who caused the Saskatchewan crash last year that killed 16 people and injured 13 others on the junior hockey team’s bus.

“I think this will be harder than the funeral,” said Joseph, a former NHL player who lives in St. Albert, Alta.

“I think everybody’s going to feel it.”

Joseph plans to stand in court and read his victim impact statement, full of stories about his 20-year-old son Jaxon. He wants the truck driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary, to hear what he took away from the world.

“(Jaxon) was more than just a hockey player on a bus. He was a person that had a lot of love for his family and had a lot of goals and dreams.”

His family is submitting about a dozen statements at the hearing which, with 29 victims, could see a few hundred statements entered as exhibits. A makeshift courtroom has been set up in a community event centre in Melfort, Sask., to accommodate all the families, the survivors and the media.

Some of the Humboldt players had been changing into suits and others were texting girlfriends as the team’s bus headed to Nipawin, Sask., for a playoff game on April 6. The bus and truck, which was carrying a load of peat moss, collided at a rural intersection.

Motorists who stopped to help, as well as some parents who were on their way to the game, came across the carnage.

News of the crash made headlines around the world and hockey-loving Canadians responded with an outpouring of support. They pulled on sports jerseys, left hockey sticks on porches and donated millions of dollars.

Sidhu pleaded guilty earlier this month to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years each, as well as 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, which carries a maximum 10 years.

Lawyer Mark Brayford said after the guilty plea that Sidhu, 30, wanted to take responsibility to avoid a trial and more hurt for the families.

Joseph said he wants the Crown to ask for the highest sentence possible, although he also believes the trucker isn’t totally at fault. “He might be a bit of a victim in this whole thing too, because he never should have been behind the wheel.”

The facts have yet to be submitted in court, but a lawsuit filed by the family of another player killed in the crash alleges any training Sidhu had was inadequate.

The owner of the Calgary trucking company that hired Sidhu also faces eight charges that relate to non-compliance with federal and provincial safety regulations in the months before the crash. He has yet to go to trial.

Toby Boulet of Lethbridge, Alta., will set eyes on Sidhu for the first time since he saw him at the crash that killed Boulet’s 21-year-old son Logan. Boulet remembers Sidhu was agitated and talking to someone in uniform.

Boulet is also delivering a victim impact statement, but he said the most important thing for him will be to learn what happened. All that’s now known is that the semi was on a secondary road with a stop sign. The bus had the right of way. RCMP have only said publicly that the truck was in the intersection when the collision occurred.

“I want to know what he did or didn’t do,” said Boulet, who added that it doesn’t matter to him what sentence Sidhu gets.

“I’d like to see him serve more than a day in jail, but ultimately he did not get up that morning … and say, ‘I’m going to run into a bus and have a crash and kill 16 people and injure 13 for life.’”

Ryan Straschnitzki, 19, of Airdrie, Alta., is one of two players paralyzed in the crash. He has been busy with rehabilitation, didn’t want to write a victim impact statement and says he and his parents aren’t going to the hearing.

“That’s none of our business anymore. It’s the judge, it’s the police, and I don’t really see any point in going,” he said.

“It’s in the past and I’m here now and I’m lucky.”

His mother, Michelle Straschnitzki, said it’s been devastating watching her son have to lift his own legs. And she can’t forgive the truck driver, even though she’s sure his own family is also suffering.

“You destroyed 30 families that day. We’re all going to be living with this for the rest of our lives.”

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