So Michael Bryant, who until earlier this week was best known for having been Ontario’s Attorney General up until last year, is out on bail. As befits a man who has every advantage in our legal system, after being held overnight, he showed up at his hearing with multiple lawyers and a fresh suit & tie. I hope that the Crown attorney who will be prosecuting him is up for the challenge of speaking up for his victim, because the cyclist he ran over is no longer alive to speak for himself.
It’s early yet, but it seems like this incident started out as common road rage. Bryant reportedly honked at off-duty courier Darcy Sheppard, who reportedly shouted something back at him, at which point Bryant allegedly ran his car into Sheppard’s rear wheel. If this is what happened, as an urban cyclist I can attest that Sheppard would have been scared out of his wits at this point. Deliberately being rammed by an automobile in traffic would frighten me just as much as having someone point a loaded gun at my head; whether or not the person seems likely to actually kill, it sends a very clear reminder that the person is able and apparently willing to follow through on their threat. In Bryant’s own words from his political days, speeding cars are “as dangerous as explosives”.
For those who haven’t heard the rest of the story, Sheppard at this point chose fight over flight: he got off his bike and grabbed a hold of Bryant’s convertible, presumably in attempt to force Sheppard to stay until he’d given him a piece of his mind. This of course was extremely stupid for many reasons, and it likely didn’t help that Sheppard, according to friends, had had a drink or two, although they say he would have tested under the legal limit for being on the road. To me, the strongest argument against reacting so aggressively to a bad driver is that if a confrontation starts on the road, as a cyclist, I will certainly lose. That’s exactly what happened to Sheppard, who was at this point dragged into the oncoming lane and run against trees and mailboxes until he fell off and was run under Bryant’s rear wheels. Sheppard clearly exercised very poor judgment, but not to the point that he deserved to die for it. Yes, there are lots of bad cyclists out there, but according to Toronto police 90% of cyclist fatalities are a result of aggressive motorists.
Since Sheppard did confront him, I’m guessing Bryant is going to claim justifiable vehicular homicide in self-defense. I’m concerned he’ll get away with it, and with the message that would send. Mostly, I’m concerned because some day something like this could happen to me or anyone else who rides in the city. Had Sheppard backed off and simply filed a police report, it’s almost certain that nothing would have happened to Bryant at all unless there were plenty of witnesses and perhaps a video recording, but he would at least have lived to ride another day. I find myself increasingly choosing quiet, slower side streets where road rage is less common, but when I do get into an incident with a driver, I back off and keep my distance. Sh. and I have both had scary experiences involving being chased into alleys by scary, angry men in which we literally feared for our lives. No matter how much they might deserve it, I no longer kick cars. It’s stupid to start a fight you can’t possibly win.
Requiescat in pace, Darcy Sheppard. As for you, Michael Bryant, I hope you get what you deserve.