Driver in fatal 401 crash was under court order not to drive

Gagandeep Singh faced charges linked to stolen vehicle possession, retail thefts

Six vehicles were involved in a crash on Highway 401 that killed two grandparents and their infant grandchild on Monday. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The driver of a cargo van involved in a deadly wrong-way crash on Highway 401 east of Toronto late last month was under a court order not to be behind the wheel, according to court records.

The collision, which came amid a police pursuit, killed four people — including the driver, an infant and his two grandparents visiting from India.

Court documents obtained by CBC News show Gagandeep Singh was facing multiple criminal charges at that time and had allegedly broken a condition of his release, namely "not be in the driver seat of a motor vehicle."

Defence lawyer John Christie, whose firm recently represented Singh in court, confirmed to CBC News that Singh was the van driver.

Court records show Singh had been charged on Feb. 28 with being in the possession of a stolen vehicle in Whitby. The charge sheet says the 21-year-old was out on a release order following a previous arrest, and that his conditions stated he couldn't be behind the wheel.

He was granted bail the next day.

Separate court records, which list Singh as having no fixed address, allege he'd stolen merchandise from an LCBO outlet in Burlington and another in Oakville over the course of three days in January.

In the Oakville incident, Singh is alleged to have used violence while carrying out the robbery. The same month, Singh was also charged with stealing merchandise from a Home Depot location in Milton.

He was due back in court on May 14.

In an interview with CBC News, Christie called the bail conditions to which Singh was supposed to be adhering "appropriate.

"This is a 21-year-old man who is accused of having stolen bottles of liquor from liquor stores. There's an epidemic of that," he said. "If people who were stealing liquor from liquor stores were not given bail … the jails would be full."

Christie also said if a person who steals liquor is convicted, they are likely to get a sentence ranging from probation to a short stint in jail — anywhere from a day to a week behind bars. Yet it generally take months for charges like that to move through the courts, which would leave a person incarcerated for a longer period than the penalty they would likely face.

"You can't keep people in jail for minor offences," he said. "Only the most draconian justice systems deny bail as a regular course of action."

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which is probing the high-speed police pursuit and ensuing crash, said Durham police had been called to respond to an LCBO robbery in Bowmanville, Ont. that evening.

Police were chasing the van on one of Canada's busiest highways as Singh was going the wrong way and crashed into oncoming traffic. The collision killed three-month-old Aditya Vivaan from Ajax, and the boy's grandparents, Manivannan Srinivasapillai and Mahalakshmi Ananthakrishnan, who had been visiting from Chennai, India.

The crash also injured the infant's parents, Gokulnath Manivannan and Ashwitha Jawahar. The SIU said the couple was travelling in the same Nissan Sentra as their child and Manivannan's parents.

In a statement released earlier this month, Manivannan said he and his wife are at a "complete loss of words to describe the agony and vacuum in our hearts" in the wake of the crash.

"The pain of my own injuries pales as I grapple with the shock and loss of my parents and my only son on the same evening and the ordeal continues with my wife's continued suffering from surgeries and repeated flashbacks of the trauma," he said.

"The aftermath has left an indelible mark on our lives, with profound grief. While we begin the arduous journey of planning farewells for our loved ones, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the community who hold our family in their thoughts," said Manivannan.

Last week, police officers and emergency dispatchers in Durham Region were instructed to complete a mandatory training course on suspect pursuits within the next two months.