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Truck driver in Canada crash that killed 16 pleads guilty

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Jaskirat Singh Sidhu leaves provincial court in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Tuesday. Sidhu, the driver of a transport truck involved in a bus crash that killed 16 people with the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team in Canada last year has has pleaded guilty to all charges against him. Sidhu was charged with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press via AP)

MELFORT, Saskatchewan  — The driver whose transport truck crashed into a hockey team bus in Canada, killing 16 people, pleaded guilty Tuesday to all charges against him.

Thirteen others were injured when Jaskirat Singh Sidhu’s truck loaded with peat moss collided with the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus in rural Saskatchewan in April.

The 30-year-old Sidhu pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

The case was adjourned until Jan. 28 for sentencing.

“His position to me was, ‘I just want to plead guilty. I don’t want you to plea bargain. I don’t want a trial,'” Sidhu’s lawyer, Mark Brayford, said outside court, his client beside him with his head down.

“Mr. Sidhu advised me: ‘I don’t want to make things any worse. I can’t make things any better, but I certainly don’t want to make them worse by having a trial.'”

Brayford said more evidence is still to be handed over to the defense, but his client wanted to plead guilty to avoid further delay.

“He wanted the families to know he is devastated by the grief he has caused them,” Brayford said. “He is overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy and kindness that some of the families and players have expressed to him in spite of the fact that their grief is entirely his fault.”

The bus was travelling north on Highway 35 and the semi was westbound on Highway 335, which has a stop sign.

The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years. It’s 10 years for dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Scott Thomas, whose 18-year-old son Evan died in the crash, sat near Sidhu in court and said the guilty plea meant a lot to him.

“All I’ve ever told my kids is speaking about accountability and responsibility and to hear him use his own words to plead guilty, it’s powerful,” Thomas said, fighting his emotions outside court

“Now we can move forward with the next part of this.”

Tom Straschnitzki, whose 19-year-old son Ryan was one of two survivors who were paralyzed, said he wants more answers about what happened and what the trucker was thinking.

“You’re taught when you’re young: red light, green light, and look both ways,” he said. “Why didn’t he do that? Was he just in a hurry? Did he have to get a load in right away? Was he pressured by his bosses?”

Michelle Straschnitzki, Ryan’s mother, said she is worried the guilty plea will mean a lighter sentence.

“I’m glad he won’t be putting everyone through a lengthy, exhaustive and heartbreaking trial,” she said. “However, I also hope that by doing so, he doesn’t get an absurdly reduced sentence as per our justice system.”

Thomas said he’s not worried about the time Sidhu could serve.

“When he said, ‘Guilty,’ to me, I have my closure,” he said. “If he spends a day, if he spends 10 years, time is irrelevant. He was guilty. He acknowledged that. That’s all I needed to hear. The rest of the sentence doesn’t matter to me. It really doesn’t. It is not going to bring Evan back. I’ve got to spend the rest of my life with it. He’s got to spend the rest of his life with it.”

The owner of the Calgary trucking company that hired Singh, Sukhmander Singh of Adesh Deol Trucking, also faces eight charges relating to non-compliance with federal and provincial safety regulations.

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ATA hints it may sue Virginia over proposal to toll Interstate 81

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The proposed toll legislation for Interstate 81 would charge commercial trucks at 17 cents per mile, personal vehicles at about 11 cents per mile and offering an annual pass to commuters in passenger vehicles. (Courtesy: WIKIPEDIA)

RICHMOND, Va. — The American Trucking Association hinted Thursday it may sue the State of Virginia over legislation that proposes charging tolls on Interstate 81.

The ATA did so in a letter to Connecticut Gov. Ralph Northam opposing the legislation which Northam touts as the best way to fund improvements to the 325-mile interstate between Bristol and Winchester.

The bill proposes tolling commercial trucks at 17 cents per mile, personal vehicles at about 11 cents per mile and offering an annual pass to commuters in passenger vehicles.

The letter, signed by Jennifer Hall, the ATA’s general counsel and executive vice president, legal affairs, says that if adopted in their current form would not only be poor public policy, but would raise serious legal issues and may create an “impermissible burden” on interstate commerce.

The proposed plan has four options for tolling.

The ATA letter dealt with the option that would toll all vehicles with an annual pass available exclusively to automobiles.

“The car-only annual pass proposal is unlawful under the U.S. Constitution because it represents an impermissible burden on interstate commerce,” Hall wrote. “More specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court has explained that, under the Commerce Clause, a transportation user fee is permissible only “if it (1) is based on some fair approximation of use of the facilities, (2) is not excessive in relation to the benefits conferred, and (3) does not discriminate against interstate commerce.”

Plan’s car-only annual pass option would fail this test for a variety of reasons, the ATA said, noting:

  • User fees would bear no relationship to use of the tolled roads;
  • Tolls on commercial vehicles would be excessive in relation to the benefits conferred;
  • The plan favors noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles, which power interstate commerce.

The ATA said by allowing automobiles the opportunity to pay a one-time fee for unlimited travel over the course of the year, but to deny that flat-rate opportunity to trucks, means that the proposal is not “based on some fair approximation of use.”

On the contrary, for a passenger car availing itself of the annual pass option, its user fees will bear no relationship whatsoever to its use of the tolled roads. Trucks, by contrast, will have no choice but to pay on a trip-by-trip basis, the federation claimed.

Hall said the proposed toll scheme discriminates against interstate commerce by favoring noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles—i.e., the very vehicles by which interstate commerce moves.

“The Supreme Court has expressly held that highway user fees ‘discriminate against out-of-state vehicles’ when they predictably ‘subject them to a much higher charge per mile travelled in the state,’ and ‘do not even purport to approximate fairly the cost or value of the use of [the] roads,” the letter said. “That is precisely what the proposed toll scheme does, by allowing automobiles — and only automobiles — the option of an annual flat fee that translates to a predictably lower charge per mile the more such vehicles use the road.”

If the ATA files suit against the toll plan in Virginia, it would be the second lawsuit regarding tolls in the past six months.

“We encourage you and the Assembly to think carefully about these issues before Virginia takes any further steps in the direction it appears to be heading; and to bear in mind that the auto-only annual pass option will be vulnerable to a legal challenge if it moves forward,” Hall concluded letter.

If a lawsuit filed against the director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, ATA charges that the Rhode Island tolls violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by imposing “discriminatory and disproportionate burdens on out-of-state operators and on truckers who are operating in interstate commerce.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recently filed a lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Finance Authority, the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., and the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation challenging the increased tolls on heavy vehicles on the Indiana Toll Road. They were implemented last October.  8

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Runaway ‘bobtail’ tractor crashes into Atlanta motel

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Police said this “bob-tail” tractor left the road, hit a parked car and ran into the side of a motel. (Atlanta Channel 2 Action News photo)

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Thursday that a driver is in custody after crashing a tractor-trailer into a motel in northwest Atlanta and running from the scene, officials said.

Atlanta Fire Rescue spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford told AJC.com that the truck went “partially” into the side of the Airway Motel in the 700 block of Fulton Industrial Boulevard on Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries.

The “bobtail” tractor-trailer left the road, hit a parked limousine and went into the one-story building about 9:15 a.m., Atlanta police Officer Jarius Daugherty said.

The driver ran but was captured nearby, police said. His identity and the charges against him have not been released.

A woman was inside the motel room where the truck hit, but she was able to escape by climbing out of a back window, Channel 2 Action News reported.

“I just started crying and screaming,” the woman, Lashonda Allen, told the news station. “I was just praying to God the semi-truck didn’t catch on fire.”

Crews are checking the structural integrity of the building and investigating what sparked the crash.

By noon, the truck had been removed, and a gaping hole remained in the brick building.

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Oops! New York state did not previously enforce ELD rule, now making up for lost time

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The ELD mandate was a 2012 law passed under former President Barack Obama. The provision was championed as a way to protect the safety of truckers and others on the road. The Trucker file photo.

ALBANY, N.Y. — There’s always a straggler in the bunch. Unknown to many, New York state has not previously been enforcing the federal electronic logging device (ELD) mandate because it never adopted the ELD rule under its state laws and thus lacked the authority to enforce it.

According to the Trucking Association of New York (TANY), the New York State DOT has now issued an emergency rulemaking and begun enforcement of the ELD mandate.

TANY added in a news release that they have been told carriers not in compliance with the ELD mandate will be placed out-of-service as early as Thursday, January 17.

The ELD rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration went into effect in December 2017 and state governments were to have followed suit by incorporating the federal ELD rule into their state laws.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has pursued lawsuits with certain states that have enforced the mandate while lacking a state-level law.

The ELD mandate has been unpopular among some truckers, who say it harms their schedules, take-home pay, and safety. Other truckers have said they like electronic logging once they get used to it.

When OOIDA sued New York, their complaint was dismissed — not because the New York court agreed with the state’s actions to enforce the federal law, but because New York wasn’t enforcing the law in the first place, according to Business Insider.

The snafu came to light in a State of New York Supreme Court ruling and opinion issued on December 31 by Judge Richard M. Platkin.

“Drivers are not being stopped, cited, or placed out-of-service pursuant to the ELD rule,” Platkin wrote.

Marc Berger, the chief motor-carrier investigator for New York’s Department of Transportation, said in the December 31 ruling that there are “no notices of violation or uniform traffic tickets being issued citing ELD provisions.”

The other defendants in the case — New York’s state police and the Department of Motor Vehicles — also stated that the ELD law hasn’t been enforced.

The ELD mandate electronically enforces the Hours of Service (HOS) law, which has been in effect since the federal government began regulating trucking in the 1930s. The HOS law stipulates that truckers can drive no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period, a provision that some truckers say doesn’t reflect the nature of their work.

New York state said in the ruling that it does in fact enforce the HOS, but that the law is more challenging to enforce if ELDs are used.

The ELD mandate came into effect by means of a 2012 law passed under former President Barack Obama. The provision was championed as a way to protect the safety of truckers and others on the road. FMCSA estimated in 2014 that ELDs could prevent up to 1,714 crashes, 522 injuries, and 24 deaths each year.

But some truckers maintain ELDs are doing the opposite, while truck lobbying groups say it’s really not ELDs drivers have a problem with, it’s the unbendable nature of the HOS, which need more flexibility.

“The electronic logs are supposed to make it safer, but really it has created a hazardous race to beat the clock,” career truck driver Steve Manley, 51, told Business Insider. “Drivers are now more reckless than ever trying to make it to their destination before the clock runs out with the mandatory breaks and such.”

A TANY news release said despite New York State not enforcing the ELD mandate, it did enforce HOS and that FMCSA roadside inspections and on-site audits enforced the ELD mandate.

“Due to this, TANY continued to advise members to be in compliance with the ELD mandate regardless of the situation with New York enforcement,” the association said.

 

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