Bryant charged with criminal negligence after crash
Published Tuesday, September 1, 2009 10:48PM EDT
Ontario's former attorney general left a police station Tuesday afternoon facing two serious criminal charges after a Monday night incident that left a cyclist dead after an apparent incident of road rage.
Michael Bryant was held in custody overnight for questioning inside the Traffic Services unit on Hanna Avenue.
He left accompanied by his lawyer, released by police on his own recognizance. Bryant made a brief, emotional statement to the media.
"I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family of (the deceased cyclist) Mr. (Darcy Allan) Sheppard," he said, choking back tears. "To all those who offered support to my family in the last 12 hours, thank you."
He asked the media to respect his family's need for distance and privacy for the next few days and said he will not be making further comments on the incident. He did not take questions.
Bryant, 43, faces two charges:
- criminal negligence causing death
- dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death
He is to appear in court on Oct. 19.
Legal analyst Steven Skurka told CTV News Channel that criminal negligence is equivalent to a manslaughter charge. It carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Not a hit-and-run
The fatal crash is the result of an apparent altercation that took place between a motorist and a cyclist over several blocks along Bloor Street, from Bay Street west to Avenue Road, just before 10 p.m.
Words were first exchanged, then at some point, the black Saab convertible and the bicycle bumped. Things escalated from there. For reasons that aren't yet clear, the victim grabbed the side of the car and wouldn't let go.
"What I saw was the car speeding up the wrong side of the road, with the injured man on the driver's side of the car holding on as tight as he could," witness Ryan Brazeau said. "And then the driver of the car pushing up against the curb, trying to knock him off on the poles as he went down the opposite side of the road."
Another witness said Sheppard hit a mailbox then the road. The back tires then ran over him.
The driver of the car continued on but stopped a short distance away at the Park Hyatt hotel, located at the northwest corner of Bloor and Avenue.
Paramedics took Sheppard to hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries.
News cameras at the scene of the accident captured the former politician in the back seat of a police cruiser. A car registered to a Michael Bryant was also seen at the scene of the crash.
A woman in a red dress accompanied Bryant. She attempted to block TV cameras from filming at the scene. She is not facing any charges in connection with the incident. She called 911.
Sgt. Tim Burrows said at a news conference Tuesday morning that Bryant was one of several people who called 911 to report the incident.
"(He) was not in any way trying to evade or elude our investigation," he said.
No allegations against Bryant have been proven in a court of law.
Sheppard a free spirit
Sheppard was a bicycle courier and a father of at least one child who moved to Toronto from Edmonton about 15 years ago. A courier friend told CTV Toronto that the victim was a "good-natured, caring, fun-loving guy," while another said he was a free spirit. Sheppard had aspirations of being a standup comedian.
However, it appears that Sheppard had contact with police at his George Street residence in the hours before his death. Police were reportedly called there over a disturbance of some type. There are allegations Sheppard may have had a few drinks in him.
In any event, some of his friends gathered at the scene of the incident Tuesday night. Flowers were placed near the mailbox where Sheppard received his fatal injuries. An advocate for "Bike Lanes on Bloor Street" talked to people about the dangers of mixing bicycles and cars on busy thoroughfares.
Burrows said they have received a number of reports from witnesses who were in the area and that they have answered many questions that investigators had about the crash.
However, police are still looking to speak with anyone who was in the area -- along Bloor Street, from Church Street all the way to Avenue Road -- between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Monday.
They are asked to call Traffic Services investigators at 416-808-1900.
Police also have some surveillance video, but Burrows said it doesn't tell the whole story.
The B.C.-born Bryant first won a seat in Queen's Park in June 1999 and was long considered to be a rising star. He was named attorney general -- the youngest person ever to hold the title.
Among his moves were crackdowns on drunk driving, street racing and banning pit bull terriers.
During his time at Queen's Park, Bryant also served as aboriginal affairs minister and minister of economic development.
In May, he resigned from politics to pursue a new opportunity with Invest Toronto, an agency created to lure investment dollars to the city.
Toronto Mayor David Miller, who is also chair of Invest Toronto, released a statement Tuesday morning expressing his condolences to the family and friends of the dead cyclist. However, he did not comment on Bryant.
"As this is an active police investigation, I will not be making any further comment on this tragedy today," Miller said.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty also briefly touched on the incident during a morning news conference on a different matter at Queen's Park Tuesday morning.
He said the incident is "very sad, very tragic," and added that he will wait for the investigation to unfold.
"It's very tragic how events that unfold in a minute can have such a profound impact on people's lives," he said. "A negative impact."
With reports from CTV Toronto's Tom Hayes and Dana Levenson