On Tuesday in a Melfort courtroom, Sidhu pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Simply put, said one legal expert, there hasn’t been a case like it in the country because of the sheer number of victims involved and the enormous loss caused by the collision.
On April 6, 2018, while en route to a game, the team’s bus collided at an intersection with the semi-truck that Sidhu was driving. Sixteen people, including 10 Bronco players, were killed, and 13 others were injured.
His sentencing hearing is set to commence on Jan. 28, with three to five days set aside for the vast number of victim impact statements that will be presented in court.
It will be a precedent-setting case for all the wrong reasons, and incredibly difficult for the judge, said criminal defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle.
“This is a very difficult task, because what the public expects and the justice system is capable of doing are really two different, distinct things,” said Pfefferle, who is not involved in the case.
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According to Sidhu’s lawyer, his client pleaded voluntarily, and while Sidhu can’t make things better for the families, he didn’t want to make them any worse by heading to trial.
“Sentencing is often said to be an individualized process, but judges use other cases to formulate their positions and this is a case that is going to be, in many respects, unlike any other,” Pfefferle added.
There are no cases of this magnitude in the country that counsel could draw from in terms of sentencing ranges or recommendations, he said.
In 2017, semi-truck driver Normand Lavoie was sentenced to three years after killing three teens from Carrot River, who were stopped at a construction zone.
The professional truck driver was said to be on “autopilot” when he rear-ended them, and it was later revealed in court that he suffered from sleep apnea.
According to Pfefferle, the number of deaths associated with this crash could result in a higher sentence, but we have yet to hear the mitigating factors in this case.
“There’s a very wide range here that the court would be considering,” Pfefferle said. “Likely anywhere as low as 18 months all the way up to significant penitentiary sentences.”
The maximum sentence for a single count of dangerous driving causing death is 14 years, and the maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing bodily harm is 10 years.
Generally speaking, said Pfefferle, he’s seen offenders in Saskatchewan sentenced to up to four years in the penitentiary for a single count of dangerous driving causing death, and 90 days incarceration for bodily harm.
Sidhu remains out on bail until his sentencing, and for some of the 29 families directly touched by this tragedy, no sentence will be long enough to be satisfactory.
“The court is really not equipped to address the tragedy and the loss here,” Pfefferle explained.
“It’s not the court’s ability to really address that. It’s to assess the situation and come down with an even-handed, fair resolution that speaks to the moral culpability and moral blameworthiness of the particular offender.”