Firm says trees obstructing vision at Humboldt Broncos crash intersection

REGINA — A consulting firm says sight lines are a safety concern at the rural intersection where the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash happened.

A 70-page safety review done for the Saskatchewan government and released Wednesday said a stand of trees, mostly on private property, obstructs the view of drivers approaching from the south and east — the same directions the bus and semi-trailer were coming from when they collided.

Negotiating with the landowner to remove the trees is one of 13 recommendations included in the report. The province said painting ”Stop” and “Stop Ahead” on the road, as suggested in the review, was done this week and there are plans to add rumble strips next year.

Chris Joseph, a former NHLer whose son Jaxon died in the crash, said all of the recommendations are good.

“We definitely want to make the roads safer,” Joseph said. ”I mean, that’s pretty much all we’ve got, right? We lost our son and we’re just hoping to avoid future accidents like that.”

Sixteen people died and 13 others were injured in the collision at the intersection north of Tisdale on April 6.

The bus was travelling north on Highway 35 and the semi was westbound on Highway 335. Both roads have speed limits of 100 km/h. Highway 335 has a stop sign. Highway 35 does not.

The RCMP have charged the truck’s driver, Jaskirat Sidhu, with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily injury. His next court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.

The review notes that because Sidhu’s charges are still before the court, police would not discuss causes of the crash.

The report’s authors found six collisions at the intersection between 1990 and 2017 and another 14 on the two roads nearby.

One of those collisions was deadly.

In June 1997, a half-ton truck and a semi-trailer crashed leaving six members of the same family dead.

Those vehicles where heading south and east — in the opposite direction as the bus and truck in the Broncos crash. The review did not find another accident with vehicles travelling west and north.

“Although there have been two multiple fatality collisions at the intersection, the location does not have a high overall frequency of collisions, including high-severity collisions,” the review concludes.

A coroner’s report on the 1997 crash, which was obtained through a freedom of information request, recommended installing an additional warning device approaching Highway 35 from the west, which could include rumble strips. The government of the day declined, however, noting there had only been one crash at that intersection since 1988.

Joseph said rumble strips would slow drivers down and he thinks better sight lines would have allowed bus driver Glen Doerksen more of an opportunity to see the truck. Doerksen was killed in the crash.

“There’s no question the trees would have helped,” Joseph said.

The government cut down some of the trees in October, but most of them are on private property.

Fred Antunes, deputy minister with the province’s Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, said there will be further discussions about the trees with the landowner.

But Ian Boxall, deputy reeve of the Rural Municipality of Connaught, said he takes issue with asking people to cut down trees on their private property.

“If you follow the rules of the road and stop at the stop sign, the trees aren’t an issue,” he said.

The review looks at the current memorial at the intersection and suggests it be moved to a safer location because of the high volume of visitors.

Joseph said preliminary discussions suggest the government is willing to create a space where people can safely pull off.

“We want a roadside memorial, we don’t want it to be a distraction,” Joseph said.

In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Premier Scott Moe said Saskatchewan is looking at improving safety of other intersections across the province.

“The investment that our highways have experienced over the last decade needs to continue,” Moe said.

But no matter what governments do to reduce risk, Antunes said drivers are still responsible.

“It requires all drivers to pay attention to what they’re doing, follow the rules of the road and if drivers don’t do that, we’re still going to have accidents.”

— With files from Colette Derworiz. Follow @RyanBMcKenna on Twitter

Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press

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