Cyclist involved in 6 previous altercations with motorists: prosecutor
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 | 11:41 AM ET
Crown prosecutors have withdrawn all criminal charges against former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant stemming from the death of a bicycle courier in downtown Toronto.
Richard Peck, a prosecutor brought in from British Columbia, told a Toronto court Tuesday morning there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
Bryant was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death after an alleged confrontation with Darcy Allan Sheppard on the evening of Aug. 31.
Those charges haven’t officially been dropped yet, although they are expected to be soon.
Criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, while dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death carries a maximum 14-year term.
Police had alleged that Sheppard died after grabbing onto a car on Bloor Street West following an altercation with the driver.
Video of the incident shows Sheppard leaned into the driver side of Bryant’s car near the steering wheel, and was holding onto the car as it sped away, veering to the wrong side of the road. Sheppard succumbed to injuries after smashing against a tree and a mailbox.
Sheppard’s struggles detailed
The cyclist’s blood alcohol concentration was measured at .183, more than twice the legal limit, court was told.
“Mr. Sheppard struggled with alcohol, drug use and psychiatric issues,” said Peck.
Peck detailed six previous altercations involving Sheppard and motorists who called police after seeing Sheppard’s photo, which Peck said indicated “a pattern of escalating behaviour with motorists leading to the fateful incident.”
In one case, Sheppard smashed a car mirror, and in another he reached into a BMW trying to snatch keys, Peck told the court.
Forensic experts concluded Sheppard was trying to attack Bryant, Peck said.
Bryant told the prosecutor in a previous interview he was desperately trying to flee in fear and panic.
Bryant was elected as the Liberal MPP for St. Paul’s riding in 1999 and won re-election in 2003 — becoming the province’s youngest-ever attorney general at the time — and again in 2007. He also served as aboriginal affairs minister and minister of economic development.
Bryant remained an Ontario cabinet minister until May of last year when he stepped down to take the job as president and CEO of Invest Toronto, an arm’s-length agency set up by the City of Toronto to promote investment. Until then he had been frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Premier Dalton McGuinty as leader of the province’s Liberals.
Bryant is a Harvard-trained lawyer who clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada and later taught law at the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall and King’s College, London.
Charges dropped against ex-AG Michael Bryant
25 May 2010
TORONTO — All criminal charges have been withdrawn against former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant in connection with an incident last August that left a 33-year-old bicycle courier dead.
Special prosecutor Richard Peck made the announcement in a Toronto courtroom Tuesday morning.
Police alleged there was a verbal altercation and collision between a man driving a Saab convertible and a cyclist.
The driver then allegedly drove off. Some witnesses alleged the vehicle accelerated quickly while the cyclist was clinging to the side of the car, before he fell to the road.
Darcy Allan Sheppard, a bike courier, died in hospital shortly after.
Bryant had faced charges of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.
Witnesses to the crash near the corner of Bay and Bloor streets told reporters the driver steered the car into oncoming lanes.
The cyclist, hanging from the vehicle on the curb side for about 100 metres, struck trees and a mailbox before he hit the ground.
Bryant’s role as a former Ontario attorney general and a three-time elected member of provincial parliament led to an intense level of attention on the case.
Bryant has stepped down from his position in the provincial government to head Invest Toronto, an economic development agency for the city.
Before that, he was among the highest profile members of Ontario’s government, holding the positions of aboriginal affairs minister and minister of economic development during his 10 years at Queen’s Park.
Cycling advocates decry decision to drop Bryant’s charges
Last Updated: May 25, 2010 12:12pm
Biking advocates and friends of Darcy Allan Sheppard were outraged to learn charges were dropped against Michael Bryant.
Marli Epp, the spokesman for the Toronto Bike Messenger Association, told the Sun the justice system has failed.
“It’s legal to kill somebody with their car in this country,” Epp said. “That’s unacceptable. We are questioning the fact that justice cannot be served here.”
The association is planning a vigil at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday along Bloor St. W., just east of Avenue Rd., where Sheppard died.
A ghost bike marking the spot on the south side of the street where Sheppard’s body was found had been placed on the spot in the wake of Bryant’s charges last year. It has since been moved to the north side of the street due to ongoing construction.
Epp, who knew the 33-year-old cyclist and bike messenger, said Sheppard was a “good guy.”
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” she said.
Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, said she was disappointed in the outcome of the case but “not surprised.”
“I’m at a loss,” she said. “It’s an inadequate outcome and very disappointing.”
Bambrick questioned why it mattered that Sheppard’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit when he was struck and killed.
“What difference does that make?” she asked. “(Bryant) is in a car, he’s got lots of options. “There is always a choice to make and he made the wrong choice in this case and it resulted in a death.”
Bambrick also worried about the precedent the case sets.
“What kind of message does that send to drivers?” she said.
Derek Chadbourne of Advocacy Respect Cyclists (ARC) questioned why past reports of Sheppard’s angry encounters with motorists should factor into the Bryant case.
He asked why Bryant’s history of being a fighter wasn’t raised in the case.
Chadbourne wants to know what would have happened if Bryant wasn’t a former attorney general and “well-connected.”
“Perhaps things would have been different,” he sighed.