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John Bonnar is an independent journalist covering social justice events in and around Toronto through print, photo, audio, video and slideshows. You can connect with him on Facebook (John Bonnar) or on Twitter at @johnb98 or on YouTube at johnb98.

Bryant book launch angers cycling community

| September 9, 2012
Photo: John Bonnar

Three years later, Alan Wayne Scott is still haunted by the death of Darcy Allan Sheppard. 

When Scott listened to the original witness reports on the morning following the accident, he’d never heard of a similar incident between motorist and cyclist that came close to what the construction workers described.

“It was like I’d been kicked in the gut,” said Scott, a former foot, transit and bicycle courier for 25 years. “And for over a year it never went away. It was like I’d physically been assaulted myself.”

As an experienced courier, Scott has a theory on why someone like Sheppard would have latched on to the side of a car. 

“If you’ve just been assaulted twice by somebody in a motor vehicle, the last place you want to be is in front or behind that car,” he said.

“Most people think the guy must have been drunk or crazy. With Navigator’s spin on things and most relating to the motorist’s point of view, a lot of people have just accepted that the drunken, substance addled bike courier was the aggressor.”

Scott said Sheppard never grabbed Bryant. Only the car.

“If you wanted to do physical harm to somebody, why wouldn’t you just grab him?” asked Scott. “Bryant was never attacked. There isn’t a mark on him.”

As for “Bryant’s panicked state of mind”, Scott can’t believe that there wasn’t more empathy for Sheppard, the man who’d been attacked multiple times.

“But we don’t hear anything about that,” he said.

Initially, Sheppard was also accused of pulling the steering wheel, causing Bryant’s car to veer into oncoming traffic. But there was no evidence to confirm that happened, so Bryant had to later admit that he didn’t know who grabbed the wheel.

“There are these holes (in his story),” said Scott. “Whenever the evidence contradicts what he originally said, he says he doesn’t know.”

The former courier also had a problem with the way Richard Peck, the prosecutor brought in from British Columbia to handle the case, used “average speed” to have the charges against Michael Bryant withdrawn. 

“The speed of the car while Sheppard is on the side of the car is articulated by the prosecutor, in his summation to the judge to drop the charges, as an average speed of 34 kilometres per hour,” said Scott.

“Why would anybody use the average speed from when the car is at a stop to when it stops again, after he’s been dislodged from the side of the car on the fire hydrant?”

The Toronto Star reported that “Expert analysis conducted by Crown and defence investigators determined the car was travelling in the range of 34 kilometres an hour, in contrast to eyewitness accounts that it was driving between 60 and 100 km/h.”

“The independent forensic engineers that we’ve had look at the evidence say that the car was travelling, top speed, 70 kilometres an hour the wrong way in a construction site on Bloor Street with one lane,” said Scott.

“Now that contravenes something. I believe that’s 50 kilometres over, if it’s a 20 kilometre speed limit in a construction zone.”

Scott said that according to the forensic engineers, the impact speed "when Bryant slammed Sheppard into the hydrant" was the critical number - not the average speed.

“A big chunk of his hip was taken off his body when he hit the hydrant,” said Scott. 

“Nobody knows any of this stuff. But everybody in our society came up with a conclusion as to what happened.”

Before any evidence came to light.

“Well, the evidence still hasn’t come out,” said Scott. “The videos have been ignored. And we’re just not going to let that happen.”

That’s why over 50 members of cycling community gathered outside the Toronto Reference Library on Wednesday to protest the launch of Bryant’s book, 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy and Hope, his personal account of the events leading up to Sheppard’s death and the after-effects.

“I feel sorry for him,” said Scott, referring to Bryant. 

“He’s committed political suicide by stating things that can be so easily refuted. He’s got 300 pages of stuff in that book that he has to defend for the rest of his life. And if he’s lying, he has to lie for the rest of his life.”

Bryant will also have to defend things he wrote about that should never have been included in his book.

On page 280 in Bryant’s book, he wrote, “I sometimes wonder if I ever actually crossed paths with Darcy Sheppard when we sought recovery in the same rooms. If I didn’t, I have met people who say they did, and men and women from backgrounds much like his.”

“His family did not give Michael Bryant permission to out him (Sheppard) as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous,” said one cyclist, who had spoken with Darcy Allan Sheppard’s father about the matter.

“Others may now look at that and not want any part of AA.”

Cyclists made it clear on Wednesday that they’ll continue to pursue justice for Sheppard, especially since many of them have had similar experiences with motorists. 

But they were lucky. It didn’t cost them their lives.

Chloé Rosemarin rides her bike every day, year round. She’s involved in an altercation with a motorist at least once a week.

“And I ride really slowly,” said the diminutive Rosemarin. “And I ride really responsibly. And I’ve taken CanBike.”

Darcy Allan Sheppard, or Al as he was known to his friends, died on August 31, 2009, a month and a half shy of his 34th birthday.

For Fionna Blair, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. That’s why she believes there should be a public inquiry into the incident.

She wants to know why Bryant didn’t have control over his vehicle if he was sober that night. Why didn’t he stop? 

Why didn’t he realize that his actions could seriously injure or even cost Sheppard his life?

“But he didn’t,” said Blair. “He washed a man off his car with street furniture.”

Blair didn’t know Sheppard that well. She’d only met him twice through mutual friends.

“The man that I saw was trying to make something of his life,” she said. “And he was working hard towards that.”

An avid cyclist, Blair knows all too well what it’s like to maneuver Toronto’s downtown streets with aggressive drivers who passively push cyclists into curbs or tell them to get off the streets.

So do bike couriers Leah Hollinsworth and Charlie, who knew Sheppard for years.

“He was just a jovial guy, a fun guy,” said Hollinsworth. “He did like to party. He liked to have a good time. He liked his beer.”

“So did Michael Bryant,” said Charlie. 

“That’s one of the main points in his new book is his triumph over alcoholism which is the exact defense, whatever you want to call it, that was used to discredit Al’s credibility.”

They’re both angered that Bryant never took a breathalyzer, wasn’t charged with leaving the scene of a crime and didn’t bother to call 9-1-1 immediately when he saw Sheppard collapsed on the ground.

“Some of the things that drivers have done to both of us could result in death,” said Charlie. “Such as running you off the road.”

One time, Charlie had a driver pull in front of him at very high speed and then suddenly slam on his brakes. Charlie ran into the back of his car. And the driver just drove away.

“If you took out a gun and started shooting it around in the air because you were scared and it hit and killed somebody, you would still be charged with murder,” said Hollinsworth, referring to Bryant’s excuse that he was scared and that’s why he swung his car across Bloor Street trying to dislodge Sheppard from the vehicle.

Even when cyclists do call police after an altercation with a motorist, they said they’re not always taken seriously.

When Hollinsworth got hit by a car that was making an illegal left turn at Avenue Road and Cumberland Avenue, the driver got out of his car, assured her she was fine, got back into his car and left the scene.

Fortunately, a witness jotted down the vehicle’s license plate number. But in the end, the driver was only charged with making an unsafe turn and fined $100 dollars.

“I was out of work for seven weeks,” she said. “It crushed my bike, destroyed my clothes and cost me $4,000 dollars to get everything fixed.”

The prevailing attitude amongst a lot of drivers appears to be that bicycles don’t belong on the roads.

“Most of the time they just say ‘Fuck you, get off the road’,” said Hollinsworth.

“Or they don’t even realize what they just did,” added Charlie. “Or they did it purposely.”

But occasionally, both admitted, they’ll encounter drivers who take responsibility and apologize for their actions.

Now and again, Smitty, another bike courier with over 10 years experience on the streets of Toronto, used to hang out with Sheppard during the day at work.

“I think it’s pretty tasteless,” said Smitty, referring to some of the excerpts he’s read from Bryant’s book.

“It seems like he hasn’t taken any sort of ownership of what happened and he’s pretty much blaming it all on Darcy, whereas there’s video and eyewitness evidence to the contrary. But he chooses to ignore that. And since it didn’t go to trial, nobody else got to hear about it either.”

Smitty admitted that if he got bumped twice from behind by a car, he’d get off his bike too and have a chat with the driver.

“And I’d certainly want to make sure he didn’t get away from the scene,” he said. “Because obviously that’s assault with a vehicle.”

Smitty said things have become more dangerous for cyclists in the last few years. 

“There are more cars on the road, less people paying attention to what they’re doing,” he said. “There are more distractions.”

Thirteen years ago when Smitty started in the business, he said the most glaring distractions were women putting on makeup in the rear view mirror and the odd cellphone.

“But nowadays, everybody’s got a cellphone and they’re all looking at it now, not just calling people on it,” he said. 

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