A Brampton, Ont. man already facing deportation to his native India has been sentenced to four years in prison for a wild ride in a stolen semi-truck that saw him collide with nine cars during a police pursuit through the city’s North End.
Gurpreet Atwal, 31, was convicted of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, driving while prohibited and eight counts of failing to stop at the scene of an accident in connection with the Jan. 18, 2019 rampage.
"It’s an absolute miracle no one was hurt or injured that day," said provincial court Judge Keith Eyrikson, noting a two-year-old toddler was a passenger in one of the vehicles Atwal struck, and a two-month old infant in another.
"It’s impossible to do justice… to how dangerous a situation that was," Eyrikson said.
Co-accused Karanvir Singh Kang, who stole the truck, died of a drug overdose after he was released on bail.
The driver of the truck had left it running outside a restaurant near Inkster and Brookside boulevards around 5 a.m. when Kang jumped in and drove away.
When the owner of the truck spotted it five hours later in the area of Keewatin Street and Hekla Avenue and called police, Atwal was at the wheel after he had been picked up by Kang. Police followed from a distance as the truck made its way from the Perimeter and Pipeline Road to Main Street and Red River Boulevard, where the truck picked up speed as it headed back into the city.
As police continued to hang back, Atwal, over the course of about 10 minutes, drove through red lights and stops signs, colliding with nine vehicles along Main Street, Salter Street and Selkirk Avenue before crashing into a steel fence outside a Robins Donuts restaurant.
At trial, Atwal testified he drove the truck at Kang’s behest under duress, a claim Eyrikson rejected.
At the time of the theft, Atwal was on probation for a previous conviction for dangerous driving in Ontario and was prohibited from operating a motor vehicle, said Crown attorney Joel Refvik.
"He should have been on his best behaviour," Refvik said.
Atwal is already facing automatic deportation following a conviction for breaking and entering in Ontario.
Defence lawyer Nolan Boucher said Atwal’s life started a downward spiral after he was pushed into an arranged marriage. Working and going to school in Australia at the time, Atwal returned to Brampton, "to marry a woman he had never met, let alone love, all for his family," Boucher said.
Atwal turned to alcohol and drugs to numb his feelings of depression. When his marriage ended in 2016, he entered an even darker place, feeling he had brought shame upon his family, Boucher said.
"He wanted to seek help, but that is not looked on favourably in his community," Boucher said.
Atwal remarried and quit abusing drugs and alcohol, but continued to associate with the same people, including his co-accused, Boucher said.
Atwal apologized in court for putting so many lives at risk.
"I’m thankful to god nobody was injured, including me," he said. "I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I won’t let anything break me down like it did in the past. I will remain strong."
Atwal received credit for time served, reducing his remaining sentence to just under two and a half years.