The families of five of the victims killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash are suing the Saskatchewan government for ignoring past warnings about the deadly intersection.
Players Adam Herold, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Hunter, Jacob Leicht, and assistant coach Mark Cross, were among the 16 people who died on April 6, 2018, when the Saskatchewan junior hockey team’s coach bus collided with a transport truck that ran a stop sign adorned with a single flashing light at a rural intersection, about 130 kilometres east of Prince Albert.
An extensive package of court documents obtained by Global News reveals the late Broncos’ families began their lawsuit earlier this year, referencing concerns about recommended improvements to the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 that date back more than 20 years. They claim the government was negligent and acted in bad faith by not following through on previous advice and that’s what caused the accident. They’re seeking a declaratory judgment and financial damages.
The province wants to strike the case, arguing in a reply brief that the no-fault framework in the Automobile Accident Insurance Act prevents legal action against it. The government is arguing that under the legislation, it cannot be defined as a third party and that the families are not dependents and not eligible to sue for damages.
A hearing to decide the appeal is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Regina.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The Broncos’ families note in their lawsuit that the April 6, 2018, crash — where the team’s northbound coach bus had the right-of-way on Highway 35 and the westbound transport truck faced a stop sign on Highway 335 — was not the first fatal collision at that intersection.
They reference the RCMP Collision Reconstruction Investigation Report that followed a deadly collision on June 17, 1997, in which six people died after their vehicle was struck by a transport truck.
“The cause of the collision was that the eastbound Vehicle #1 failed to stop at the stop sign on #335 highway and drove into the path of the southbound Vehicle #2 on #35 Highway,” reads the report.
RCMP advised the crossing was known to be a danger by residents in the area and recommended speedbumps and flashing lights be installed.
“During the subsequent investigation into this collision, it is felt that there is a vision/recognition problem with the intersection for vehicles approaching same on #335 highway,” the report states.
In a letter dated Dec. 1, 1997, and sent to Saskatchewan’s then-Minister of Highways, a civil engineer (who claimed to have related experience having previously worked for British Columbia’s ministry of highways), cautioned that the sightlines at that intersection were inadequate.
“The first and most important part of issuing an access permit or basic intersection design is ensuring enough sight distance,” the letter states. “In the event of a problem with sight distance, alternative measures must be taken.”
In December of 2018, nine months after the Broncos’ bus crash, the Saskatchewan Party government of the day announced the 13 recommendations from the third-party McElhanney Consulting Services hired to review the intersection would be implemented. Among them: adding rumble strips and improving sightlines.