The ‘life sentence’ of remorse for drivers who cause deadly crashes

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The ‘life sentence’ of remorse for drivers who cause deadly crashes

by - 6 min read

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There’s little doubt truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu will serve time behind bars for causing the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The Crown recommended 10 years in prison and the defence presented other cases to the judge where sentences ranged from 18 months to four years.

Whatever the length of sentence delivered on Friday, it is likely to be controversial. Sidhu says he inadvertently ran a stop sign and drove into the path of the hockey team’s bus, killing 16 people and injuring 13 others. He pleaded guilty to 29 counts of dangerous driving.

What is certain, say other drivers who have caused fatal collisions, is that Sidhu’s punishment will extend far beyond any prison sentence. Four drivers who have caused deadly crashes — under different circumstances and with different consequences — tell CBC News the true punishment is a lifetime of remorse.

Chelsea Kinsella and Scott Moe, Saskatchewan’s premier, both caused fatal collisions by accidentally driving through stop signs. Kevin Brooks and Ted Gross both caused deadly crashes while driving drunk.

This is how they describe living with the consequences of their actions.

Dark times, two decades later

In June 2000, Kevin Brooks was a reckless 21-year-old out for a night of partying with his childhood buddy in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley.

“I drove drunk. I drove fast … I was distracted. I was a new driver,” Brooks said. “I mean, every wrong choice I could have made, I made.”

Kevin Brooks, left, was convicted of dangerous driving causing death in June 2000. He was drunk when he got behind the wheel and crashed his car, killing his friend Brendon Beuk. (CBC News/submitted by Kevin Brooks)

He lost control and crashed his car. He woke up three weeks later in hospital and learned he was paralyzed and that his friend, Brendon Beuk, was dead.

With the support of Beuk’s parents, Brooks said he didn’t hesitate to take responsibility. He pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death. The judge sentenced him to community service with no time behind bars.

“The judge just said, ‘You know, I see a young man who killed his friend. You’ll live with that forever … What worse sentence can I impose upon you than a life sentence you’ve given yourself?'” Brooks said.

Nearly two decades later, he has visited hundreds of schools to share his story to try to stop others from driving dangerously. It helps him sleep a bit better at night, but he still has dark times.

“I had moments of thinking of taking my life,” Brooks said, noting that as strange as it may sound, he is sometimes comforted by the fact he’s paralyzed from the chest down. “I remember, early on, I started getting some feeling in my legs and my butt and I was thinking like, ‘No, no, I don’t want this. I don’t want to walk again. Like, I don’t deserve that.'”

‘Why not me?’

Long before Scott Moe became the premier of Saskatchewan, he caused a deadly collision. At the age of 24, Moe was driving to his family’s farm near Shellbrook, Sask., about 140 kilometres north of Saskatoon, after having an early morning breakfast with his grandparents.

Moe drove his truck through a stop sign and collided with another vehicle, killing a woman.

Alcohol was not a factor. Moe received a traffic ticket for driving without due care and attention.

The fatal crash has dogged him at every political turn, but Moe says he would think about the crash anyway.

“It’s something that you wake up with every morning,” he said in an interview with CBC News leading up to the Saskatchewan Party leadership convention in January 2018. “You ask yourself all sorts of questions in the weeks, days and months afterwards. Questions like, ‘Why not me?’ Questions like, ‘Had I been a few moments earlier, a few moments later, could things have been different?'”

In the Saskatchewan Party leadership race, Scott Moe, right, answered questions about the deadly crash he caused in 1997 after running a stop sign. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press) 

Moe says the crash has shaped his personal life and political career, and that it motivates him to try to make the roads safer while in government. 

“It’s a day that I live with each and every day in my life, and I know there’s another family that lives with it in a much larger capacity than I do.”

‘I will take what I have done to the grave’

Ted Gross was blackout drunk when he ran a red light and crashed into a car on May 31, 1998. Gross remembers waking up in a Regina police jail cell and being told he had killed 21-year-old Melissa Hoeving.

In the days after the crash, Gross says he had to resist pressure from family, friends and lawyers who wanted him to plead not guilty to criminal charges to try to avoid jail time.

“I had always believed, if you do the crime, you have to pay the time,” Gross said.

He pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death. The judge gave him a 3½-year prison sentence, of which Gross served nine months in the Saskatchewan Federal Penitentiary in Prince Albert. Gross, who was 20 years old at the time of the crash, says his experience in prison taught him responsibility and made him grow up.

“It made me make amends for some of the sins I had committed,” Gross said.

On May 31, 1998, Ted Gross, left, got behind the wheel drunk and sped through a red light at 137 km/h. He smashed into a car, killing Melissa Hoeving. (CBC News)

Gross says he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since the night of the crash, and has spoken to thousands of schools and companies about the dangers of drinking and driving.

“I’d love for someone to just look at me and say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be like you,'” Gross said. “I wake up every day thinking about what I have done. That, to me, is the true sentence of my crime. I’m not looking for people to give me pity on what I have done … I will have to take what I have done to the grave.”

‘Anyone could be me’

Alberta paramedic Chelsey Kinsella inadvertently ran a stop sign on her way to work in an oilfield in December 2017. She crashed into another vehicle, killing two men and injuring another. She wasn’t drunk, high or distracted by her cellphone.

Kinsella learned about the crash from her father, after waking up in hospital.

“My dad said I was the driver at fault, and I just didn’t understand. I was like, ‘No, sorry, I was not. I’m a good driver,'” Kinsella told Piya Chattopadhyay, host of CBC Radio’s Out in the Open.

“Before the police had talked to me, I thought I was going to jail because I killed two people, and that’s where you go when you kill two people.”

But Kinsella wasn’t criminally charged. She received a three-month driving suspension and $2,000 fine under Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act.

In traffic court, family members of the men who were killed presented victim impact statements. Kinsella says she could relate to those who seemed to hate her.

To a certain extent, Kinsella says, she would have preferred a dangerous driving conviction and incarceration so the families could have felt closure knowing the person responsible went to jail.

But she also wonders how long a prison sentence would be long enough.

“Is 20 years in jail per person enough? How do you justify how long a punishment is?”

Anyone could be me, or anyone could be him. We didn’t mean to go through those stop signs.– Chelsey Kinsella

In her apology letter to the family that Kinsella presented in traffic court, she says she expressed her desire to trade places with the victims.

“Today, if I had the choice, if someone were to say ‘You can bring back one of these men, but you have to die instead,’ I would do it in a second. There would be no thinking about it.”

After the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Kinsella wrote a blog post expressing empathy for the trucker who caused the tragedy, because she understands what it’s like to go through a stop sign without intent but with catastrophic results.

“Anyone could be me, or anyone could be him. We didn’t mean to go through those stop signs.”

This story originally appeared on CBC

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