Winnipeg truck driver sentenced to 8 years in prison after 2016 crash that killed 4 people in Toronto

A truck driver has been sentenced to eight years in prison in relation to a fiery collision in Toronto five years ago that killed four people.

Sarbjit Singh Matharu, 40, of Winnipeg, was found guilty on four counts of criminal negligence causing death in the crash on Highway 400 in June 2016. The collision took the lives of three generations of women from one family. His sentencing hearing was held Friday in Toronto via Zoom.

Valbona Vokshi, 35, Isabela Kuci, 5, and Xhemile Vokshi, 55, all died after Matharu’s tractor trailer crashed into oncoming traffic. Maria Lipska, 27, was also killed.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Code sentenced Matharu to eight years imprisonment on each of the four counts of criminal negligence causing death. He’s to serve those terms concurrently.

Matharu will also be prohibited from driving for 10 years after the end of his prison sentence, and will have to submit his DNA for record.

Code said Matharu was a trained and licensed commercial truck driver who failed to adhere to a “higher standard of care” given that his tractor trailer was capable of “extraordinary amounts of harm” in a collision.

Pressure from employer, risky behaviour caused crash

Matharu was also accelerating in a reduced speed construction zone, the judge noted, and failed to slow or brake in a timely way, despite seeing the slowing and stopping traffic.

He was also sleep deprived, and distracted by “lengthy cell phone conversations with his friend,” Code said, adding that the deliberate “risky behaviour” was a contributing factor to the collision.

His tractor trailer rear-ended a Hyundai driven by Lipska. Lipska’s car was pushed into Blerta Vokshi’s BMW, which flipped after hitting Valbona Vokshi’s Honda, which smashed into the rear end of another tractor trailer.

The crash itself caused an “extraordinary level of resulting harm,” Code said, resulting in injury, psychological trauma, property damage, monetary loss, and public danger.

A devastating crash in June 2016 on Highway 400 killed three generations of women from one family, from left: Valbona Vokshi, 35, Isabela Kuci, 5, and Xhemile Vokshi, 55. Also killed was Maria Lipska, right, who was just 27 at the time of the crash. The driver was sentenced to 8 years in prison on June 25, 2021. (GoFundMe/Facebook)

Matharu’s driving record was not “insignificant” in determining the sentence, Code said, given that he had prior offences.

More importantly, Matharu had falsified his log book record to “avoid being caught and ticketed for driving on insufficient sleep,” Code said, which was a “deliberate and dishonest” violation of his statutory duties as a truck driver.

Code did note the mitigating circumstances of the case, highlighting that Matharu has no prior criminal record.

“Mr. Matharu comes from a strong family background, and continues to enjoy a great deal of support from his family,” Code said. “He has always worked and supported that family; this pro-social background and family support infers he has rehabilitative potential.”

However, Code said he’s concerned about Matharu’s “singular focus on blaming others and not taking personal responsibility.”

Matharu largely blamed his employer, Rainbow Transport, for pressuring him to drive on insufficient sleep.

Sarbjit Singh Matharu was sleep-deprived and engaged in ‘risky behaviour’ on the highway leading up to the crash. (Barry Smith/CBC)

But his family insisted Matharu is remorseful In statements submitted to the court from his family.

In the virtual hearing in April 2021, the court ruled he knowingly put the public at risk with only two hours of sleep on a 28-hour trip to deliver meat to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Ontario.

Code told the virtual hearing Matharu was also on a cellphone while travelling southbound on Highway 400 near Sheppard Avenue when his truck rammed into traffic, triggering an 11-car pile up and inferno.

“He should have been at his most alert and vigilant when driving his large transport truck in these circumstances and yet he was obviously not.”

The victims’ family members declined to comment on the sentencing.

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