Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Michael Bryant vs. Cyclist Darcy Sheppard - Facts Before Acts

Something been's bothering me the past couple of days.

It isn't a new theme, but it's rearing its ugly head again: People who protest or condemn without having the facts.

On Monday night there was some sort of incident between a cyclist, Darcy Sheppard, and former Ontario MPP Michael Bryant who was driving his Saab convertible. What we know is that at some point after this incident and shouting match, the vehicle moved down the road and that, at some point, Mr. Sheppard clung to the driver's side. The vehicle traveled erratically down Bloor Street and, at some point, Mr. Sheppard fell under the rear wheels, suffering injuries that proved fatal.

That's it.

That's all we know.

Reporters and police have been trying to fill in the rest using eye witness accounts, but the fact is that the only people who know exactly what happened from begining to end are the two occupants of the vehicle, Mr. Bryant and his wife.

It has been alleged that there was a minor collision involving the car and bicycle, which took place either before or was bookended by angry exchanges between the two men. It's alleged that Mr. Sheppard slammed his bag onto the hood of the car. It's alleged that Mr. Bryant began to drive off and that Mr. Sheppard pursued the vehicle on foot and then grabbed the driver's side somehow. It's alleged that Mr. Bryant yelled at Mr. Sheppard to get off as he continued along Bloor. While it is indisputable that the car traveled westbound along the eastbound lane, it is not a given that this was done intentionally by Mr. Bryant and while it appears to be a fact that the vehicle brushed plant holders and other obstacles along the eastbound curb, it is not known if this, again, was intentional. Some allege that Mr. Bryant was attempting to "shake off" Mr. Sheppard.

What interested me right off the bat is that Mr. Bryant was not immediately charged. He was not charged until the next day, and he was not charged with manslaughter or somesuch, but rather criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. One legal source says that, if convicted, Bryant would likely face two years in jail. Two years. Conspiracy theorists were quick to jump to the conclusion that Bryant received preferential treatment because of his former status as Ontario's Attorney General. Bryant left the post a while back to lead Invest Toronto.

But was it preferential treatment or are the facts as presented to the police by witnesses and Bryant such that the police think there may have been some extenuating circumstances?

Sheppard is a former (?) bike messenger and his colleagues were quick to stage a protest on Tuesday afternoon with plans to protest again during the Wednesday afternoon rush hour. Since they chanted "murder" at one point, I assume they are protesting the charge, rather than staging some sort of traffic-blocking memorial. But I don't know for sure. Do they know? Do they know what they are protesting? I don't have all the facts of the case - do they? What exactly is the issue here? Bike lanes? Crazy drivers? Mourning? Police corruption?

From the start, Mr. Bryant has been painted as the guilty party with Mr. Sheppard portrayed as the victim of road rage. When incidents arise involving a bicycle and a car, the automobile is often portrayed as the big bad wolf.

I don't buy it.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that you're in a car, a convertible, and some guy who is angry as hell for whatever reason starts attacking you or that you feel they are about to attack you. What would you do? Lock the door? It's a convertible. Try to get out? By the time you undo your seatbelt the guy may have already punched you in the face and knocked you silly - or worse. Yell for help? Good Samaritans MAY come over if you're lucky, but by then, again, you may be unconcious - or worse. Do these things even occur to you in the split second that you're threatened? Guess what I'd do. Hit. The. Gas. I'm in a car. The best way to get away from a guy who may be a complete psycho (for all I know) is to reach 60km/h. I don't have a taser. I can't defend myself - nor my wife - from a seated, restrained position. I have very very limited options. If the guy is crazy enough to latch onto my car as I drive away do I stop and chat? Eff that. Now I might hit the brakes hard and hope he goes flying, but maybe that doesn't occur to everyone. Maybe they keep driving in the hopes that speed and common sense will convince the guy to simply let it go. Then again, maybe he doesn't. Maybe he hangs on either out of anger or fear. Then maybe he falls.

I'm not saying that's what happened in the Bloor Street case, but it's something to consider. What was going through each person's mind? Why did they do what they did? How much did anger, fear and lack of time to think play a role? Is the car's operator still the big bad wolf in this scenario?

You'll have to forgive me if, without having all the facts, I'm not willing to crucify Mr. Bryant.

It's come to light that Mr. Sheppard is a recovering alcoholic single father of three who has 61 warrants for his arrest in Alberta. An hour before the incident on Bloor, Mr. Sheppard was involved in another incident at his girlfriend's residence where he showed up having been drinking (there seems to be some qestion as to whether he was drunk) and apparently caused enough of a ruckus to warrant police presence. Friends who heard of his passing said things were looking up for the man who had had some rough patches, saying that things were improving for him "just last week". Yup - looks that way. You'll forgive me if, not knowing the man personally and knowing only his criminal and alcohol-related issues, I hesitate to put a halo on him and brand him the upstanding victim in the Bloor Street incident.

(On a side note, hearing testimonials from friends of victims has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves with news coverage. The victim can be a crack dealing gang banger who has 20 convictions for gun possession and the story is always that their death is a "tragedy" and the victim was "a great guy" with a "bright future". STFU.)

So we have some facts, but not many. On the surface, it would appear that Mr. Bryant was driving recklessly in an effort to rid himself of Mr. Sheppard.

But do we know that for a fact?

I mean, isn't it at least possible that Mr. Sheppard played SOME role in his demise? Is it possible that Mr. Bryant feared for his safety and that of his wife? Is it possible that Mr. Sheppard overreacted to the minor incident in which, for all we know, he was 100% in the wrong? Is it possible that the incident an hour prior impacted Mr. Sheppard's state of mind at the time? And why in the world would someone purposely try to shake someone off their driver's side by driving down the wrong side of the road and into objects along the curb? Isn't it possible that this was NOT Mr. Bryant's intention? Isn't it possible that it was Mr. Sheppard's presence on the driver's side door that caused the car to swerve left (either through contact with Mr. Bryant or the wheel itself)? But why didn't Mr. Bryant simply hit the brakes? Is it possible that he feared for his safety so much that the idea of stopping and perhaps giving his "attacker" a chance to regroup was not an option? Or is Mr. Bryant 100% guilty?

Who knows?

I don't. And that's the point. If you don't know the facts for certain then at least keep your mind open to the possibility that things are not as they appear.

Wait for the facts before you condemn and stage your "protests". Otherwise, don't expect to get my sympathy.


Alison Jutzi said...

As a cyclist (or perhaps I should say former cyclist...I'm not sure how long you have to let your bike gather dust on the balcony before you lose that title), I'm often appalled by drivers' reckless behaviour - cutting me off, driving too close, sometimes seeming not to notice me at all.

Thousands of cyclists feel the same way. Many of us have either been hit by a car, or know someone who has (perhaps fatally).

And that is why you're going to get a lot of angry and emotional people making assumptions about this situation without the facts. It's easy to assume that Bryant is to blame.

But in this situation it seems to be clear that the victim wasn't entirely blameless. He isn't the right poster child for the campaign to promote driver awareness of cyclists, no matter how badly his friends want to think he is.

As for painting victims in a positive light after they die - I don't think we can blame friends and family members for that. Sensationalist media? Yes, maybe we can blame them.

PS said...

Yup. See, that's the thing; this is NOT about bike lanes. No one has even mentioned, from what I've read, the circumstances of the "minor collision". We know there was one, apparently, but what was it and who was at fault? Does it even matter?

As for cyclists, well...

As a pedestrian, I'm often appalled by cyclists' (esp. couriers') reckless behaviour - cutting me off, riding too close, sometimes seeming not to notice me at all.

Millions of pedestrians feel the same way. Many of us have either been hit by a bike, or know someone who has (perhaps fatally).

And that is why you're going to get a lot of angry and emotional people making assumptions about this situation without the facts. It's easy to assume that the wanted, alcoholic courier is to blame.


But it's not about bike lanes. I'm all for bike lanes. I think we should have ones like Montreal where there's a dedicated strip of road for a two lane bike path that has it's own curb so that there's no possibility of cars accidentally drifting into them. I think more people should be able to cycle downtown danger-free. I wish I could. I think cyclists ought to get the f**k off the sidewalk, obey traffic signals and NOT pass cars on the curb side, even at red lights (if you want to be treated as a vehicle, ACT like a vehicle). EVERYONE (cars, bikes, pedestrians) needs to respect the rules of the road and use common sense.

But to make this about bike lanes etc is to make this a car vs bike argument, which it ought not to be. This is about how people BEHAVE regardless of their mode of transportation and whether they are directly involved, reporting on events or passing judgement.

Alison Jutzi said...

Ugh, cyclists who race past you on the sidewalk are jerks.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that. And they're RAMPANT in Scarberia.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Phil. I have driven for a living for 18 years. Here in the smallish U.S. city (Seattle) in which I live, the political correctness regarding bicyclists' behaviour is beginning to stink. It helps noone, and will not be legally significant in an accident, that the bicyclist is popularly held to be a saint, while I, the occupational driver, must be the misanthrope. I've had my work vehicle pounded, and keyed, about 3 times. The reason... because I honked at cyclists who were riding in the middle of the traffic lane, holding up traffic... a violation of the city traffic code.

These saintly cyclists do not forage for their food by bike daily. No, they are part of the car culture. And I, who have done bike touring myself, do not hate cyclists. But, I do hate having concrete, daily issues of human interaction distorted, bringing worse disorder to our daily lives, and giving a lousy example to those who are too young to know the real consequences of behaving like a jackass in downtown traffic.

Alison Jutzi said...

Thought you might this Globe and Mail article:

Greg said...

If you need some facts clarified by their muddled reporting in the paper, please view the compiled security camera footage available from CTV, CP24, and CBC.

Ignore the annotations and turn off the music and make of it what you can for yourself. It doesn't take an expert to tell what happened.

PS said...

Thanks for the link, Greg.

It may not take an expert, but it would take someone with better vision than mine. I can't make much out of this grainy video, especially with the editorialized tags. ("That's a funny place to park"? Is it? Not if you've just been involved in an accident and want to stop as quickly as possible, but that's just one interpretation. And what's with the suggestion that the lady in the car isn't his wife? Who cares?)

I think this video is slightly better:

What I see here is, from what I can tell, Bryant's car stopped in the left lane at a red light. Sheppard inexplicably and illegally passes the car on the left and stops in front of it, impeding its progress as the light turns green (I love the suggestion in the first video that this is ok 'cause it was a red light). The car then appears to lurch, then ram the bike, which is beyond ridiculous and for which Bryant ought to be charged (if that's the case). The car then backs up and proceeds around the bike on the right.

I can't see squat after that, except that the car seems to lean left (which is when, I presume, it went down the wrong side of the construction blocking the centre lane).

From this, I gather that it appears that, if alive, Sheppard ought to be charged with the illegal and reckless pass (that was just stupid and begging for road rage - though there's no excuse for that either), Bryant ought to be charged for striking the bike and - get this - there is absolutely no video evidence to suggest Bryant purposely caused Sheppard's death.

Actually, the fact the car oddly leans left and it is said Sheppard pursued and grabbed the car on the driver's side suggests to me that it is entirely possible that Sheppard may have clung to the steering wheel, perhaps contributing to the collision with streetside objects - or maybe Bryant went nuts and decided to joyride down the wrong side of the street.

What I can't see here, Greg, is "what happened".

Again, let's all stop filling in the gaps with our own biases.

EB said...

PS, I really don't see how you can blame Sheppard - even a little - for being the instrument of his own death, especially after watching the video. What does the fact that he had 61 outstanding warrants in Alberta (or any of the other details of his personal life) have to do with this incident? Absolutely nothing.

The video clearly shows Bryant nudging Sheppard's bike with his car and knocking him down, then trying to drive away. (In other words, hit and run.)

And true, Sheppard MAY have had his hands on the steering wheel, but again that hardly makes him responsible for the car banging into streetside objects. He may have had long arms, but they certainly weren't long enough to reach down to the gas pedal too.

PS said...


FYI - I'm having a similar conversation over at this blog:

First of all, the video is grainy. It does not show facial expressions, it does not have audio. It also DOES NOT SHOW THE PERIOD IN WHICH SHEPPARD CLINGS TO THE CAR AND FALLS.

Can we agree on that?


It shows an apparent hit and run. Great. Guilty. Does that have any bearing on whether or not Bryant caused Sheppard's death afterwards? Of course not.

What happened at the light speaks to a hit and run; what happened after Sheppard decided of his own free will to pursue and cling to a car speaks to the blame surrounding his death. Two separate matters.

What do his warrants have to do with this incident? Nothing. The point I thought I was clearly making in my post was that we need facts before acts - that there was an initial response that Bryant was 100% guilty, Sheppard was an innocent angel whose life was picking up just as this happened, and that this all had something to do with bikes vs cars - leading to protests. The point was that people jump to conclusions and make arguments using biases. The point was that Sheppard was clearly NOT the angel he was being portrayed as and, while reporters were quick to print that he was a great guy who was turning his life around, they neglected to dig enough to find that he was involved in an altercation AN HOUR PRIOR in which he was drunk and causing some sort of domestic disturbance at his girlfriend's place.

How can I blame Sheppard even a little? Am I blaming him? I thought I was allowing for the POSSIBILITY that he played a role in his demise.

Did he grab the steering wheel?
Did he grab/threaten Bryant?
Did he impair Bryant's control of the vehicle?

Who knows?

Let's wait to find out before we judge, yes?

But REGARDLESS of the incident at the light which would be a hit and run, as you say, IF the response from the victim is to jump on my car, assaut me in some way to the point I fear for my life there's NO WAY I'm stopping my car. So he can make good on his threats? Eff that. I knocked him down with my car - I'll be damned if I'm gonna let him beat me and/or kill me for it.


I don't know why the brake pedal wasn't applied. That's one of the very big questions that needs to be answered and will go a long way in determining Bryant's guilt or innocence.

What I WOULD tend to blame Sheppard for, if the video is to be trusted, is creating the whole mess in the first place by illegally passing and budding in front at the light.

Wait - before anyone says something stupid: Does that mean he deserved to die? OF COURSE NOT. DON'T BE RIDICULOUS!


Anonymous said...

You're an ass. YOU don't have the facts, however the police do and that is what they based the charges on. Read the charges.

PS said...

Ah, Anonymous, my old friend, how I love you so.

You're right: I don't have the facts. I think I kinda said that. That's why I'm not willing to pass judgement, unlike others.

The police have the facts? That MAY be true ('cause, you know, no one has ever tried to conceal anything from the police before, right?). But, of course, we KNOW the police have NEVER arrested anyone that a jury later exonerated, right?

You're right, Anonymous, as always. So wise.

Shall we burn Bryant at the stake now or do you prefer crucifiction?

Billy said...

Check the video DOUCHE BAG, the enhanced version, I think it speaks for itself.

Money cannot but innocence!!!

PS said...

Now, now; sticks and stones, Billy...

Did you read the previous comments, Billy, or did you *gasp* jump to a conclusion?

I think you're proving my point.

Again: the enhanced video does not show us anything before the intersection. It does not show the point at which Mr. Sheppard suffered his fatal injuries. It does not have audio and therefore does not show us what was said. Shall I go on or can we agree that there are details to be clarified?

Yeah...I didn't think so. Thanks for dropping by all the same, Billy.

p.s. I assume you compare me to a douche bag because I see more pussy than you, yes?


Michelle Sullivan said...

Oh my friggin' god. Did Philip actually say that Toronto should imitate Montreal? That's one for the record books ;)