Sarbjit Singh Matharu put his head down as Justice Michael Code found the 40-year-old father of two from Winnipeg guilty on all five counts related to an 11-car collision, fire and explosion in 2016 on Highway 400 that resulted in the death of four people, including three generations of one family.
Code, who delivered his judgement via Zoom, read out his entire 46-page decision after a judge-alone trial. He said Matharu’s ongoing risk-taking leading up to the horrific collision on June 24, 2016, constituted a marked departure from the requisite standard of care.
It was 9:45 p.m. on a clear night when Matharu who was operating a 2011 Volvo tractor-trailer slammed into the back of a Hyundai being driven by 27-year-old Maria Lipska, and continued to push southbound into a BMW being driven by Blerta Vokshi.
The tractor-trailer then pushed both cars into Valbona Vokshi’s Honda and into the back of Troy Lehmann’s stationary Freightliner trailer.
“This escalating collision was directly caused by Mr. Matharu’s manner of driving and it was the immediate cause of four deaths and the bodily harm alleged in the five counts of this indictment,” said Code.
Lipska was killed instantly as was 35-year-old Valbona Vokshi, who was driving the Honda and her passengers, her five-year-old daughter Isabela Kuci and her 55-year-old mother Xhemile Vokshi.
Blerta was also seriously injured in the crash. She and her sister Valbona’s two-year-old son were travelling in convoy, coming home from a day at Canada’s Wonderland.
Code said Matharu, who testified during the nine-day trial from his home in Winnipeg where he’s been out on bail since his arrest in September 2016, was neither credible or reliable and contradicted all of the eyewitnesses.
The judge rejected Matharu’s defence that he was cut off by a brown car causing him to lose control of his tractor-trailer and instead agreed with the Crown counsel, which argued Matharu was operating on little sleep, was distracted, and failed to slow down as he approached the interchange of Highway 401 south of Sheppard Avenue where the speed limit was 80 km/h due to construction.
“I am satisfied that Mr. Matharu had no more than two hours of sleep in the early morning hours of June 24, 2016,” said Code, explaining that he worked for 13-and-a-half hours straight on June 23 after leaving Winnipeg around 4 p.m.
He said Matharu slept for no more than two hours and was back on duty on the second day of the trip for another 13 hours.
Matharu testified he slept for over four hours and admitted that he falsified his driving log because he knew his sleeping hours were less than what was required by law. He admitted he made this false entry in case he was stopped and inspected.
At the time of the collision, Matharu was also on a lengthy cellphone call — something Code determined would have distracted him.
“I am satisfied that a reasonably prudent long-haul truck driver would have foreseen the risk of a collision involving death and serious bodily harm in the circumstances of this case and would have taken steps to avoid that risk,” said Code.
The judge also found that Matharu, who admitted he had to drop off his load of refrigerated meat at Maple Leaf Foods in Haddon, Ont., by 10 p.m., was either willing to take the risk because he was running late or alternatively was unaware of the risks because he was falling asleep and/or being distracted by his cellphone.
“Both of these alternative states of mind or fault are culpable. The former indicates subjective recklessness and the latter indicates gross negligence,” concluded Code.
A sentencing hearing was scheduled for June.