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'It's not right': semi driver missed warning sign, fined $3K in fatal collision near Portage
The driver of a semi-truck charged in a fatal collision near Portage la Prairie, Man., has pleaded guilty to two counts of careless driving causing death in a court appearance Wednesday — a case which drew a judge to make comparisons to the collision involving the Humboldt Broncos bus.
Gurjant Singh, 24, of British Columbia was initially charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and criminal negligence causing death, but those charges were stayed.
Singh has been fined $3,000 and received a one year-driving ban for the lesser charge of careless driving causing death.
It’s a sentence which has left the victims’ families feeling frustrated and disappointed.
The charges stem from a crash at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 16 in August 2017.
The Crown told court Singh didn’t see the flash of overhead warning lights and that he had a greater responsibility to pay attention because of the size and weight of his truck.
The more serious charges were stayed because there was no evidence Singh was driving dangerously or that he deliberately went through a red light, the Crown told court.
“He failed in his obligations to pay due care and attention to the overhead light which was a warning light,” Crown attorney Craig Savage told court. “After a painstaking review of the law and the consideration of all the evidence it was clear that we had no reasonable likelihood of conviction and to that end we had no choice but to stay those charges.”
Court heard at around 8:30 p.m. on Aug.27, 2017, Singh’s westbound semi with a flatbed carrying a load of three, nine-tonne pipes on Highway 1 went through a red light and collided with a car heading south on Highway 16.
The people in the car — 19-year-old Carley Hunking from the R.M. of Alonsa, Man., and 17-year-old Dorian Roulette from Portage la Prairie were both pronounced dead at the scene.
Savage told court a witness in another vehicle told police the overhead warning lights, which alert drivers before the intersection that the traffic light ahead is about to turn red, flashed just as the witness went by it.
“He knew the lights would change to red and he stopped at the light,” Savage told court. “Two or three seconds later the semi driven by Mr. Singh entered the intersection. It blew its horn and t-boned a vehicle.
“The consequences were devastating and the two victims were killed instantly.”
Hunking’s mom, Gypsy Hunking, sobbed and fought through tears as she read a victim impact statement in court.
She said outside court the sentence doesn’t go far enough.
“Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine I’d be sitting here making a victim impact statement,” Gypsy told court. “He still has his life and we have lost our daughter and Dorian.”
Roulette’s stepmother, Wendy Orr, told court: “There are no words to describe the numbness and the exhaustion felt.”
“Time doesn’t heal. We just learn to live with the anger and the heartache and the fear,” Orr told court. “We won’t get to see what the future was going to bring Dorian.”
Court heard Singh had received a speeding ticket a month prior to the collision but otherwise had a clean driving record and had been driving professionally for one year before the crash.
Savage told court Singh entered the intersection at 83 km/h in the 80 km/h zone.
He hasn’t been allowed to drive since the collision under the terms of his bail conditions.
In court, Singh apologized to the families for his driving, reading part of a prepared statement which his lawyer finished presenting when Singh was overcome with emotion.
“I did not intend this outcome,” Singh’s lawyer told court on his client’s behalf. “I braked, I swerved, I tried to avoid the collision.
“Not a day has passed since, without me reliving the accident. I hope they know even if they can’t forgive me I did not intend this outcome.”
Judge Don Slough compared the collision to the one involving the Humboldt Broncos bus.
“The elephant in the room here is Humboldt,” Slough told court. “There’s no question.
“Someone gets eight years and here we are talking about a fine. In Humboldt, it was repeated, thing after thing – five different warnings were there and somehow he didn’t see it. Here, it’s one moment of inadvertence. That’s the difference here and it needs to be emphasized.”
The judge sympathized with the families in what he called an extraordinarily difficult situation, noting nothing he says can replace or make up for the loss they suffered.
“A moment of inadvertence by the accused, Mr. Singh, took Carley and Dorian away from the family and friends,” said Slough. “A very experienced Crown with expertise in this sort of file assessed the evidence available to the Crown. He concluded that the most the Crown could prove was split-second inadvertence.
“Once Mr. Singh failed to respond to those warning lights, given the nature of the vehicle he was driving, given its size and weight, braking is virtually impossible in the time that was left before the light turned red. He simply could not stop.”
That’s little comfort for the victims’ families.
“It’s not right. He should never be able to drive again,” said Hunking. “We lost amazing people, young people that were just starting their lives and we don’t get to have them back.
“Why should people be able to drive around and drive a truck and kill people and nothing happen. It’s not right.”