Almost a week after the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus collided with a transport truck in rural Saskatchewan, leaving 16 dead, there are still scant details about what caused the horrific crash.
Some have said the truck driver was blinded by the sun, others that the intersection was a notorious hazard.
Scott Thomas, father of Broncos forward Evan Thomas who was killed in the crash, said a police officer shortly after the crash told him a driver ran the stop sign.
“The police officer says someone blew a stop sign,” Thomas told Global News. He also said he doesn’t believe the sun played a factor in the crash.
“It’s a beautiful sunny day, no snow, the roads are dry and the police officer told us the fella claimed the sun was in his eyes,” Thomas said. “We were [there] 45 minutes after the accident and that sun was still high enough to not be in someone’s eyes.”
The RCMP wouldn’t comment on any of the allegations and cautioned the investigation continues.
“This is going to take time to put it all together because there is a significant number of factors that need to be considered,” RCMP Cpl. Rob King told Global News Wednesday. “We want to look at the investigation in its totality, so we can make a clear assessment and make a best determination of what happened.”
The tragedy in Humboldt claimed the lives of 16 people, including 10 players between the ages of 16 and 21, when the semi-trailer carrying a load of peat moss collided with the Broncos bus. Dayna Brons, the Broncos’ athletic therapist, died Wednesday from injuries sustained in the crash last Friday night.
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The truck is owned by Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., which was incorporated in Alberta on April 28, 2014, according to corporate records. The sole director and shareholder is Sukhmander Singh of Calgary.
“I am scared now … lots of pressure on my mind,” Singh told reporters Wednesday. “My work is gone … my other truck is shut down now. That’s it, no work. I don’t know … I’m still waiting for the investigation, then take the next step.”
The company owns two trucks and only appears to have been operating for the past three months, during which time it had no convictions or collisions. According to Alberta government records, the company had a safety fitness rating of “satisfactory unaudited,” a term generally used to describe new carriers with no known compliance issues.
A spokesperson for Alberta Transportation said Friday the company didn’t register a vehicle that needed a Safety Fitness Certificate until September 2017. The department said a process is in place to check for previous registrations and performance records.
“It’s changed my whole life, this incident,” Singh said. “I want to help the families. I have kids too.”
Alberta Transportation ordered the company involved in the crash to keep its only other vehicle off the road as a result of the crash. It’s a move that is considered standard procedure when a serious accident has occurred, officials said.
The records show inspectors found one “out-of-service” defect for “hours of service” on Feb. 8. Graeme McElheran, a spokesperson for Alberta Transportation, said the company’s February infraction occurred in the Northwest Territories for violating the federal hours of service regulation, which could include driving for too many consecutive hours.
An out-of-service defect is one considered “an imminent hazard which, when discovered, render the driver, vehicle, and/or cargo ‘out of service’ until the defects can be addressed.”
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Alberta court records show the company under the name Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd. was issued tickets for a commercial vehicle stopped on the highway and parking a truck off a truck route.
The driver involved in the crash was described by Singh as a “friend” from Calgary. The 30-year-old driver obtained his license a year ago and had been on the road for two weeks, after undergoing two weeks of training, Singh said.
“I do my best. I can give the training like within 15 days. I can train and then the guys … I can do the road tests for everything,” the owner said. He said he showed them how to secure their load with straps “but the guys have already a licence, maybe one year ago.”
Alberta Transportation said there are protocols in place to make sure “due diligence is done” when it comes to checking an operator’s previous record, which could include being contacted by a public safety investigator.
“[Carrier Services] would search to see if the applicant has a record of previous history regarding non-compliance issues,” Alberta Transportation said in an emailed statement. “The carrier may also be asked for additional information before Carrier Services would consider another Safety Fitness Certificate from that same carrier.”
Tyler McMurchy, spokesperson for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, said it’s not mandatory for truck drivers to attend certified training schools.
“We strongly recommend they do,” McMurchy said in an email. “The majority of Class 1 applicants in Saskatchewan take some amount of Class 1 training before taking the test. The content of training varies by training school.”
The only requirement to drive a semi-trailer in many provinces including Alberta and Saskatchewan, is passing written and road exams.
SGI said following the Humboldt tragedy, it is working with those in the industry about strengthening the training requirements, adding it hopes to have a new program in place by 2019.
“SGI is recommending 70 hours of training, which will be comprised of ‘in class’ (theory), ‘in yard’ and ‘in truck’ (practical),” he said. “SGI would like to continue to expand the program over time to get to 103.5 hours (like Ontario).”
Asked if the driver had told him the low sun was a factor in the crash, Singh said: “I don’t know.”
“I’m just sorry for everything,” he said. “Tough time for everybody.”
An inspection history of Charlie’s Charters Ltd., the bus operator involved in the crash, released by Saskatchewan Government Insurance shows the 13 buses operated by the company received a satisfactory safety audit March 2016.
The profile showed the company had three at-fault accidents and one traffic ticket for speeding and vehicle registration in 2017. Of the four vehicle inspections completed that year one defect was found.
The bus driver killed in the crash has been identified as Glen Doerksen, 59, of Carrot River, Sask. The Broncos paid tribute to Doerksen on its website, writing: “his energy and cheerfulness brought many things to the rink.”
A funeral for Doerksen will be held on Friday, April 13 at 2 p.m. at Carrot River Community Hall
The RCMP said the investigation into the cause of the crash will take a long time given its complicated nature and the amount of evidence involved.
Weather, skid marks, visibility, speed and the mechanical condition of the vehicles are just some of the factors that will be analyzed.
Ryan Straschnitzki, a Humboldt Broncos player who was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash, said he remembers the bus driver yelling just before the impact.
“I was on my phone sitting near the front and all of a sudden the bus driver yelled, ‘Whoa’ and slammed on the brakes, and we ended up hitting the semi and I blacked out from there,” he told discoverairdrie.com. “I woke up lying on the road, staring back at the bus severed in half, and my teammates were in front of me bloodied and moaning. And I just wanted to help so bad. I just couldn’t move my legs or anything.”
When the Broncos bus passed through the intersection northbound on Highway 35, it would have had the right of way. The semi-trailer would have had to stop at a stop sign with flashing lights before crossing the highway. A stand of trees on the southeast corner of the intersection limits visibility of the approach on both roads.
*With files from the Canadian Press and Global News
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