Bryant says he'll 'never forget' deadly fight with cyclist
Published Tuesday, May 25, 2010 6:19PM EDT
Hours after criminal charges against him were withdrawn, Ontario's former Attorney General said he will "never forget" the night he was involved in a fatal altercation with a Toronto cyclist last summer.
"This is not a morality play about bikes versus cars, drivers versus cyclists or one about class privilege or politics. It's just about how in 28 seconds everything can change and how time marches on. And so will I," Michael Bryant said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Bryant was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving after getting into a violent dispute with bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard last August in downtown Toronto.
Special prosecutor Richard Peck told a courtroom Tuesday morning that he had no reasonable grounds for conviction after assessing the evidence in the case.
Peck also described the 33-year-old victim as the aggressor in the incident.
"(Bryant) was attacked by a man who unfortunately was in a rage," he told reporters outside the Queen Street courthouse shortly after the proceedings. "He was legally justified in his attempt to get away."
Bryant was heading home after a night out with his wife on the Danforth when he got into a minor collision with the cyclist.
The court heard the situation soon escalated, as Sheppard grabbed on to Bryant's convertible, struggling with him at the wheel as the car veered out of control.
Sheppard hit a fire hydrant on the sidewalk as the car drove off at about 34 kilometres per hour and suffered a fatal blow when his head his the curb.
Peck said an autopsy showed that Sheppard had twice the legal alcohol limit in his system at the time of the incident.
One witness said Sheppard was acting like a "mad man," Peck said.
The investigation also found that Sheppard was on top of Bryant, as the car veered out of control. Small traces of the cyclist's blood were found on the inside of the windshield.
"I don't think we'll ever have a clear understanding of what happened," Peck said.
Witnesses told police that Sheppard had run-ins with six other motorists the same month he got into an altercation with Bryant. One surveillance camera caught Sheppard latching on to another vehicle, this time a BMW SUV.
Peck also detailed the victim's troubled past in court, saying he was moved into several foster homes before he was adopted at age six. Sheppard had a substance abuse problem, court heard.
Sheppard's adopted father and his girlfriend were in court Tuesday morning. Both were visibly emotional after the proceedings.
"I don't know what justice is in this circumstance," his father told reporters after court. "I'm not happy with the result but I don't know what would have made me happy.
"I believe that the people who made the decisions heard me and talked to me with great respect and they've made a decision that I'll accept," he added.
Bryant used the news conference to apologize to Sheppard's family and assure them that he will always remember the events of that evening.
"I'll never forget for the rest of my life the unnecessary tragedy of that night," he said. "(To his friends and family) I express my sympathies and sincere condolences. I have grieved that loss and always will."
Bryant said he is looking forward to going back to work at Toronto law firm Ogilvy Renault and thanks his legal team and wife for sticking by him.
He said he felt "terrified and panicked" during the ordeal but that he has no anger towards Sheppard.
Friends, family remember in vigil
Bryant was criticized for driving erratically while Sheppard was hanging on to the car. He was also questioned by police for leaving the scene of the accident and calling police minutes later from a hotel driveway, located a block away from where Sheppard laid on the roadway.
When asked by a news reporter why he didn't take his foot off the pedal, Bryant paused and then said that he has thought a lot about what he would do differently if he had the chance.
"What happened has been really exhaustively described by the prosecutor and that's what happened," he said. "I obviously wish that none of it had happened. None of it."
News of the withdrawn charges spread quickly through Toronto's cyclist community. At the time of the incident, cyclists protested on the streets and complained Bryant was receiving preferential treatment.
Several cyclists stood outside the Queen Street courthouse waiting for Bryant and the prosecutor to emerge. Many said they will hold a vigil at Bay and Bloor Streets that was held Tuesday evening in honour of Sheppard.
Bryant, a Harvard-educated lawyer, was at one point favoured to replace Dalton McGuinty as the head of Ontario's Liberal Party. He resigned from politics in 2009 to take a high-profile job as CEO of Invest Toronto.
He stepped down from that job days after he was charged in the cyclist's death, announcing his resignation in a letter that also declared his innocence.
Peck was brought in from Vancouver to prosecute the case. Ontario chose to have an independent prosecutor in order to avoid any conflict of interest.
Peck told the court Tuesday that it was his decision alone to withdraw the charges.