Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash

One of Canada’s most high-profile highway tragedies occurred on 6 April 2018, when a bus carrying 28 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team collided with a transport truck at a highway intersection near Tisdale, Saskatchewan. The crash killed 16 team members: 10 players and 6 staff. It also led to new truck-driver training and licensing regulations and increased awareness about the availability and use of seat belts among bus passengers.



2018 Playoffs

The Humboldt Broncos are a team in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), a Junior A-level league for amateur players across the province. In the spring of 2018, the Broncos were competing in a second-round playoff series against the Nipawin Hawks. Down three games to one — after losing game four in triple-overtime in Humboldt — the Broncos were preparing to make the road trip back to Nipawin for game five in the series.

Nearly all of Humboldt’s almost 6,000 residents were following the team’s games. As with other small Saskatchewan towns, hockey is a focal point of community life in Humboldt. Home ice, the Elgar Petersen Arena, is among the most prominent buildings in town, standing at the western entrance of the community. The Broncos had been crowned Canada’s national Junior A champions twice since 2003. Humboldt took pride in the team, not only because of its history and exploits on the ice, but also because local volunteers operated the Broncos and billeted its players, and the community shared in educating and supporting young athletes at the cusp of their adult lives. “The Humboldt Broncos were not about building hockey players, but creating amazing young men,” said Kevin Garinger, the Broncos president. “That’s what we had in our organization — amazing young men.”

Crash

Photo of the wreckage of a fatal bus crash carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team

The wreckage of a fatal bus crash carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team near Tisdale, SK. Photo taken on 7 April 2018.

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

On the afternoon of Friday, 6 April, 28 Broncos — players, coaches and other team staff — boarded a bus for the more than two-hour drive north to Nipawin. Glen Doerksen, the chartered bus driver who had driven the Broncos to other games across rural Saskatchewan, was behind the wheel, greeting team members as they boarded the coach in the parking lot of the Humboldt arena.

At 5:00 p.m., the day was still bright, sunny and clear. The bus was driving north on Highway 35 past Tisdale, nearing the crossroads with Highway 335, which runs east-west across the wide, flat farmlands of eastern Saskatchewan. A flashing stop sign at the crossroads, known as Armley Corner, requires traffic on Hwy. 335 to stop and give vehicles on Hwy. 35 the right of way. However, as the Broncos’ bus entered the intersection, it struck a transport truck heading west carrying bales of peat moss to Alberta. The driver and lone occupant of the truck, 29-year-old Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, had not stopped as required at the crossroads.

The collision tore off the front end of the bus and sent both vehicles careening off the highway onto their sides. A snow-covered field beside the intersection was now a horrifying sight: two wrecked vehicles, hundreds of green-and-white bales of peat moss littered around the crash scene, and the Broncos team members lying dead or injured on the icy ground or among the mangled remains of their bus.

Defenseman Ryan Straschnitzki remembers blacking out and then regaining consciousness on the snow outside the bus, trying to comprehend the devastation around him. “I kept calling out guys’ names and asking if there was anything I could do. All I wanted to do was just help my teammates, but I just couldn’t move my legs… [Broncos centre] Nick Schumlanski had blood on his face and he was moaning in pain. [Defenseman] Logan Boulet was next to him.”

Casualties

Straschnitzki and Schumlanski both survived the crash, although Straschnitzki would be paralyzed from the chest down. Logan Boulet was one of 14 people who died at the scene. A total of 13 bus passengers were taken to hospital, where two more Broncos later died of their injuries. Among the 16 fatalities were 10 young hockey players, the bus driver Glen Doerksen, the Broncos’ head coach and one assistant coach, as well as the team’s statistican, its athletic therapist and its play-by-play announcer. The youngest victim was defenseman Adam Herold, aged 16. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the diver of the transport truck, was physically unharmed.

One of the challenges in identifying the dead was that the players had all dyed their hair blonde and were also growing beards for the playoff series. Since they were heading to a game, most were not carrying wallets with ID cards. As a result, 18-year-old defenseman Xavier Labelle — who was alive but unconscious, with serious facial wounds — was misidentified in the hours after the crash as 18-year-old goalie Parker Tobin. It was only after Labelle regained consciousness in hospital and said he wasn’t Tobin that the mistake was revealed, leaving the emotionally shaken Labelle and Tobin families to grapple with their new realities.

Photo of bus crash survivor Ryan Straschnitzki at a physiotherapy session

Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor Ryan Straschnitzki attends a physiotherapy session in Calgary, AB, on 20 August 2018.

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Grief and Reaction

The tragedy and its human toll sent waves of shock and sorrow across Canada. The 10 young players who died were mourned not only by their immediate families in Saskatchewan and Alberta but also by the families in Humboldt who had billeted and cared for them during hockey season. Meanwhile, in a nation where a culture of supporting amateur, travelling hockey teams is woven into the social fabric, the Broncos’ loss hit close to home. As SJHL president Bill Chow told a tear-filled news conference in Saskatoon after the crash, “The worst nightmare has happened.”

Expressions of grief and solidarity poured into Saskatchewan from across Canada and around the world, from hockey icons such as Wayne Gretzky and political leaders such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump, who posted his condolences on Twitter. In the aftermath of the crash, several National Hockey League teams replaced their own names with Broncos on the back of their team sweaters. In Ukraine, the national hockey team paid its respects by putting flowers outside the Canadian embassy in Kiev (see also Ukrainian Canadians). In Ottawa, members of Parliament, wearing hockey sweaters inside the House of Commons, held a moment of silence and delivered tributes to the Humboldt victims.

Did you know?
A GoFundMe campaign to support the Broncos and their families became the site’s most successful campaign ever launched in Canada. It raised more than $10 million in the week following the crash and reached more than $15 million by the time it closed.

On Sunday, 8 April, two days after the crash, thousands gathered at the 1,800-seat Elgar Petersen arena in Humboldt for a prayer vigil in honour of the victims. There was not an empty seat in the arena, where that night the team had originally been scheduled to play game six against Nipawin. Those who couldn’t find room in the arena crowded instead into the town’s curling rink, a school and also a church, where they watched the vigil on television monitors. “Why did this happen?” Sean Brandow, the Broncos team pastor, asked the crowds. “I would love to stand up here as a spiritual leader and say I have all the answers, but I don’t. I don’t know why… I just want you to know,” he told the grieving families, “that we hurt with you.”

Photo of a memorial at the site of the crash

A memorial at the site of the collision near Tisdale, SK. Photo taken on 30 January 2019. 

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Safety Changes

The tragedy sparked a number of demands for improvements to road transport safety. A review by the Saskatchewan government of the crossroads where the crash occurred found that the frequency of collisions there is low compared with other intersections in Saskatchewan. Even so, the intersection was the scene of another deadly crash in 1997, when six family members were killed after their pickup truck sped through the crossroads without stopping, colliding with a tractor-trailer. In December 2018, the provincial government said it would aim to improve safety at the site by installing “Stop Ahead” warning messages and rumble strips on the pavement leading into the crossroads, and by removing a stand of trees obscuring views of the intersection for approaching vehicles.

Aerial view of the intersection where the fatal crash occurred

View of the intersection of Hwy. 35 and Hwy. 335 (a.k.a. Armley Corner) and the wreckage of the fatal crash near Tisdale, SK. Photo taken on 7 April 2018. 

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

The Broncos crash also prompted campaigns by the parents of some victims for more stringent truck driver training and licensing rules and greater seat belt use on coaches and buses in Canada (see also Transportation Regulation). The truck driver in the Broncos crash was a new driver in the trucking industry. In January 2019, federal and provincial transport ministers agreed to develop a national training standard for entry-level semi-trailer drivers. Mandatory truck driver training, only required in Ontario at the time of the Broncos collision, was scheduled to be implemented in Saskatchewan and Alberta in 2019.

The federal government had also announced that it would require all newly built highway buses to have seat belts by September 2020. Meanwhile, some grieving Broncos parents launched public or legal campaigns for mandatory seat belt availability and use by passengers — including the use of shoulder straps — on highway buses.

Criminal Charges and Sentencing

Photo of Jaskirat Singh Sidhu arriving at court for his sentencing hearings

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the driver of the truck that collided with the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, arrives for the second day of his sentencing hearings on  29 January 2019 in Melfort, SK.

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Following an RCMP investigation, the Calgary-based driver of the transport truck, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, was charged with numerous criminal counts, including dangerous driving causing death. A review also found that he had violated many safety-related trucking regulations, including driving-time limits, in the days preceding the crash. His employer, Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., was also charged with violating various federal and provincial trucking regulations such as the failure to maintain adequate logbooks.

In January 2019, Sidhu pleaded guilty to all charges that he faced. Over several emotional days, Sidhu listened in a court in Melfort, Saskatchewan as the families of the deceased Broncos read victim impact statements. Some were angry at Sidhu; others said they had forgiven him. “I need to tell Mr. Sidhu that I do not believe that he got out of bed that morning to cause a crash that would ultimately kill our only son,” said Toby Boulet, who lost his 21-year-old son Logan. “I believe that Mr. Sidhu wishes with all the fibres of his being that this tragedy would never have happened. I want the same, but Mr. Sidhu and I know that cannot happen.”

On 22 March 2019, Sidhu was sentenced to eight years in prison. At the end of this term, he is likely to be deported to India, where he was born. Federal law holds that a permanent resident convicted of a serious crime can lose their resident status.

Courtroom sketch of Tanya and Paul Labelle giving victim impact statements

Tanya and Paul Labelle are seen giving victim impact statements in a courtroom sketch in Melfort, SK, on 30 January 2019.

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cloudesley Rook-Hobbs)

Humboldt Broncos Victims

Name

Age

Position

Tyler Bieber

29

play-by-play announcer

Logan Boulet

21

defense

Dayna Brons

24

athletic therapist

Mark Cross

27

assistant coach

Glen Doerksen

59

bus driver

Darcy Haugan

42

head coach

Adam Herold

16

defense

Brody Hinz

18

statistician

Logan Hunter

18

right wing

Jaxon Joseph

20

centre

Jacob Leicht

19

left wing

Conner Lukan

21

left wing

Logan Schatz

20

centre

Evan Thomas

18

centre

Parker Tobin

18

goalie

Stephen Wack

21

defense



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