Darcy Allan Sheppard – A life’s last moments


Mess Media, December 7, 2009

Darcy Allan Sheppard

Darcy Allan Sheppard

On August 31, 2009, former attorney general for Ontario, Michael Bryant, killed cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard in one of the most violent and horrific cases of road rage in Toronto’s history.

Neither Michael Bryant nor his wife, entertainment lawyer Susan Abramovitch, gave statements to police regarding the circumstances that led to Darcy Allan Sheppard’s death. They will have many months to tailor their testimonies to fit the known evidence and weave it seamlessly into a vigorous defense mounted by one of the most elite criminal lawyers in the country.

Bryant’s victim, Darcy Allan Sheppard, who was known as Al to his friends, will not have a voice at the trial. He will not have an opportunity to challenge Michael Bryant’s carefully scripted and rehearsed testimony. He will not have a chance to correct Bryant’s devoted wife and an experienced lawyer when she unconditionally supports her husband of twelve years on the witness stand.

Al’s voice needs to be heard. It’s important that people have an opportunity to understand his life’s last moments. Al could have been any one of us. He just happened to be the cyclist who crossed paths with a driver on the verge of a road rage meltdown.

I have attempted to rebuild those last moments of Al’s life from his point of view. All of the events are based on the factual evidence contained in security camera video, witness statements and news reports. Al’s point of view is also primarily based on the factual evidence as well as my own experiences as a bike messenger and cyclist.

On the evening of Monday August 31, 2009, Al Sheppard was heading home to his apartment at Dupont and Dufferin Streets. His route took him along Bloor Street in front of the trendy blocks of retail stores and boutiques near Bay Street.

At about 9:45 pm, a security camera captured images of a black Saab convertible stopped at a red light on Bloor Street near Bay Street. The car was driven by Michael Bryant. His wife, Susan Abramovitch, sat next to him in the passenger’s seat. The Bryants were on their way home after a night out celebrating their twelfth wedding anniversary.

Bloor Street was under construction at the time so the curb lane was closed and the sports car was stopped in the outside lane. As Al approached Bryant’s car he stayed to the outside, passing Bryant on the left side in order to avoid getting trapped against the curb or becoming vulnerable to a passenger opening their door to exit a vehicle.

One of the many advantages of bicycle transportation in the core of Toronto is that a bike can pass a line of cars stopped at a red light and move to the front of the line. Once in a while a driver may become angered by this because he feels that the bikes should have to wait at the end of the line. However if that same driver came up on a long single file line of cyclists stopped at a light, he would not stop at the end of the line of cyclists. He would pass them and stop near the intersection because traffic lanes in the city are wide enough to support both a car and a bike stopped at a red light.

After passing Bryant`s car Al pulled to a stop in front of it. Many years of experience as a bike messenger had taught Al that the safest place to stop your bike is about one metre from the edge of the lane. Some cyclists timidly stop their bikes as far to the right as possible, sometimes even resting one foot on the curb. They generally do this to appease motorists so that drivers can pass cyclists quickly when the light changes to green or to avoid obstructing a driver who wishes to make a right turn. However hugging the curb is not a safe practice.

Many years ago, I participated in a CAN BIKE II course as part of the city`s Injury Prevention Week promotion. The course included bike couriers, police and a couple of Toronto media representatives. It was taught by Constable Hugh Smith who was responsible for training members of the police bicycle patrol and our course was primarily aimed at the officers who were part of the bike patrol.

Constable Smith taught that cyclists should stop about one metre from the curb at a red light because that is your proper lane position for riding when the light changes to green. It also discourages motorists from cutting across you to make a right turn which can be dangerous for a cyclist. The only problem with this lane position is that some drivers perceive it as arrogance or as intentionally blocking them by taking up too much space on the road.

Downtown driving is a frustrating experience for motorists. There are too many cars, too many traffic lights and too many unexpected circumstances that slow a driver`s progress. In fact the frustrations of downtown driving are one of the major reasons for the existence of modern bike messengers and the growth of urban bicycle commuting.

Downtown cycling is much different. Bikes can move easily through congested traffic and they are not subject to the same parking restrictions. It is certainly less stressful to ride a bike downtown and most of the stress is burnt off through the physical exertion required to pedal.

Construction zones also exacerbate drivers’ frustrations. They decrease the road space for drivers creating more congestion and slowing them down. Some drivers become increasing agitated when they are behind a cyclist in a construction zone because they feel that the cyclist is in their way, taking up too much space and impeding their progress even further.

That night, Al`s proper but inconvenient lane positioning seemed to rub Michael Bryant the wrong way. When the light turned from red to green, Al didn`t move fast enough for him. Bryant honked his horn and screamed at Al to get moving. Al’s response was to stand still.

I have reacted in the same manner many times. Some drivers have a “me first” attitude. They expect a cyclist to get out of their way or to move aside so that they may proceed at the expense of the cyclist. They will make up non-existent laws that reinforce their convenience and priority.

“You’re supposed to be on the sidewalk!”

“You’re not allowed to ride a bike in winter!”

“It’s illegal to ride a bike without a helmet!”

“You not allowed on this road because there’s no bike lane!”

Al was tired of being told by drivers where and how he should ride his bike. He was tired of drivers expecting and demanding that he yield his right to the road so that some angry, self important person could get where he was going faster. Al was going to move in a couple of seconds but he wouldn’t move immediately just because Bryant demanded it.

Bryant edged his car forward in a threat to Al`s safety hoping to intimidate and scare him into submission. Al was unfazed as these kinds of menacing acts by drivers had become all too routine on the streets of Toronto. Bryant pressed his foot against his accelerator once again, pushing his convertible within inches of Al’s bike. Al could feel the heat from the idling engine of Bryant’s car. He looked back at Bryant. The two of them exchanged heated words. Al turned to face forward again.

He was standing his ground. He would not be terrorized. He would not be pushed aside. He would take his space on the road. He had a legal right be to be there.

Michael Bryant's rage

Bryant lost it. He was overtaken by complete rage. If he had a gun he may have shot Al in the back. If he had a bat he may have bashed Al’s head in from behind. Bryant was behind the wheel of a sports car so he angrily jammed his foot against the accelerator pedal deliberately punching his car into Al and the bike.

The sucker-punch from Bryant’s car crushed the back wheel of Al’s bike and jerked his back, pummelling him and twisting his body. The blow sent Al falling towards the ground. He stretched out his hands to soften the impact but the car continued pushing him from behind, scraping him along the pavement for more than a car length.

If Al was in another car rather than on a bike, Bryant would never have rammed him. He may have honked and yelled and screamed but he would never have deliberately smashed his car into another car. Ramming a bike is less risky because the car is used as weapon, whereas ramming another car would mean the victim has an equal weapon to wield in defense.

Drivers like Bryant view cyclists as less than equal road users. To Bryant, Al was less entitled to the road space and he should yield to a more privileged class of road user. How dare Al get in Michael Bryant’s way! He needs to be taught a lesson.

Al was momentarily stunned by Bryant`s attack. He knew it would happen one day but it was still a shock. So many drivers had threatened to run him down over the years. So many of them had revved their engines and aimed their cars at him but all of them pulled back or veered away at the last instant. Their sense of rational decision-making returned just in time. Al knew that one day someone would be so angry that they would forget the damage they could do to a person with their car. They would forget that in the space of a few seconds they could seriously injure or kill a cyclist in a fit of rage.

Al bent his knees and pushed up with his left arm to raise his body. As he stood up he saw Bryant reversing his car, attempting to drive around him and flee.

“You coward,” Al thought to himself, “you attacked me from behind, tried to kill me and then you run away!”

Al slammed his backpack on to the hood of Bryant`s car as it moved passed. He ran after his assailant’s car grabbing hold of whatever he could to stop it. Bryant took off with Al attached to the outside of the car driving over the back wheel of Al`s bike.

Al didn’t intend to jump on to a moving car. He saw the car fleeing and reached out to stop it. When he felt the car pulling him he tightened his grip as if to scream “stop, you can’t run someone over and drive away!” Once Bryant’s car started dragging him along, there was no turning back. He had to hold on.

Al held on as tight as he could. The car’s engine revved higher and louder. Bryant pressed his foot to the floor dragging Al along at about 90 kilometres per hour. Al was holding on for dear life now. Letting go was not an option. He had to stay up to stay alive.

I knew the feeling. When I was about 13 years old my family lived in a brand new subdivision next to a farm that had a well used railway line running through it. My brothers and I would sometimes hop on the freight trains as they passed and go for a short ride. The trains would travel at various speeds so we would have to judge whether it was slow enough to run beside and hop on to the steel ladder hanging from one of the railway cars.

One time I misjudged the train. It was going just a little bit faster than I could run. I ran beside it but when I grabbed on to the train it yanked me hard, pulling me faster than my legs could travel. Instead of letting go my hands instinctively gripped tighter and my feet left the ground. My brothers would tell me later that for a second my legs and my body looked like a flag flapping in the wind.

Even though I had no control over my legs, I held on as tight as I could because letting go would mean falling and I might fall under the train. My only chance was to hold on. I thought I had yelled for someone to stop the train even though there was no one nearby to hear me.

After a couple of seconds I was able to put my feet back on the ground and push them up to bottom step of the ladder. I rested there for a few moments. Then I jumped back off the train, grateful to have survived. If I hadn’t been able to get my feet up I likely would have kept holding on until I couldn’t hold any longer.

I’m sure that’s what Al was thinking. He had to hold on to stay alive. He had to hold on to the car that moments ago was used as a weapon against him. Surely the driver would see how vulnerable he was and slow down or stop but Bryant kept going. He sped down Bloor on the wrong side of the road, past trucks from the construction site as Al was clinging to the outside of the car. Sparks flew from the ground as the metal cleats from Al’s cycling shoes scraped along the pavement. Their eyes met. Al’s fear and Bryant’s anger were face to face for a tiny moment. Bryant was still screaming out of control at the top of his lungs. He yelled “Get the fuck off my car!”

Bryant could have eased up on the accelerator, or gently tapped his brakes but he kept his foot firmly pressed against the accelerator pedal pushing the two thousand pounds of his sports car faster and faster.

Michael Bryant in custody

Michael Bryant in custody

Al thought to himself, “Slow down. Stop. You’ll kill me. I don’t want to die. I CAN’T LET GO,” but as Al met Bryant’s glare he surely knew that Bryant was not going to stop because he saw the anger and rage in Bryant’s clenched teeth and determined stare. Bryant was out of control.

That’s when the first impact hit him.

Bryant mounted the curb on the wrong side of the road aiming his car and Al’s body at whatever he could in an attempt to scrape Al from his car. Michael Bryant crushed Al’s body between a tree and the side of his Saab. The blow squeezed all of the oxygen from Al’s lungs, taking his breath away. Before Al could breathe in again, Bryant crushed him against a mailbox and a fire hydrant, smashing Al’s head.

The blows pounded, twisted and broke Al’s body spewing blood from his nose and his mouth. Al lost his grip. His hands let go of the car. His crumpled body fell and the back wheels of the Saab ran him over one final time. Once again Bryant sped away. He drove around the corner to the ritzy Park Plaza Hotel as Al lay bleeding and dying in the street like a piece of road kill.

Michael Bryant called 911 from the luxury hotel. He was apprehended about an hour and forty-five minutes later. Before he was taken in to police custody, he sent his wife home without making a statement to police. Bryant called his lawyer and hired a public relations firm, Navigator Ltd to spin the facts.

After taking statements from eyewitnesses and viewing surveillance video Toronto police charged Michael Bryant with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

The next day Bryant was released from custody without a bail hearing. He was permitted to shave, shower and change into a designer suit at the police station before holding a press conference out front.

For the next two days shocked and angry cyclists over a thousand strong came to the scene of the attack. Cyclists blocked off Bloor Street and traced Al’s route from that tragic night. They brought flowers. They posted memorial messages for Al on the mailbox. They grieved.

Al Sheppard is survived by his four young children, his fiancée, friends and family, the Toronto cycling community and the world wide bike messenger community.

Ghost Bike for Al Sheppard - Photo from Martinho's (Martin Reis) flickr

Ghost Bike for Al Sheppard - Photo from Martin Reis' flicker (Martinho)

37 Responses to Darcy Allan Sheppard – A life’s last moments

  1. rationibus says:

    This would make a good opening address to the judge or jury in the case. Well done.

  2. J.M. says:

    Well done.
    Have his high priced lawyers tried to shut you down yet?

  3. Paul says:

    I think it’s important to note that this case involved two hot-heads who willingly escalated a conflict until it had gone too far. It was a case of road-rage on the part of two people. Both of their actions were inexcusable. One person lost his life for it. The other has to deal with the legal consequences, and whether he is found guilty of a crime or not, his political life is over.

    I support cyclists in this city and am one myself though I am also a motorist. I think cyclists deserve proper bicycle lanes. I think drivers education courses should spend considerable time teaching about the rules of the road as they pertain to cycles and public transit (e.g., not passing street cars that are stopped with their doors open). I think some of the rules of the road need to be modified in cyclists favour (e.g., considering the Idaho Stop Law).

    But let’s not confuse the venue that these two men chose to vent their aggression as the fundamental cause here. If you’re a cyclist and are on the receiving end of road rage, note the driver’s license plate and call the police. Chances are you are an adult, so act like a civilized on. Don’t act like an immature teenager and take matters into your own hands. You know that you can only lose in that situation.

    Unfortunately I feel that this story has degenerated into a class warfare name calling spat. I personally don’t think it’s a rather constructive means of moving forward. It’s the first time I’ve stumbled upon this blog, but if you’re willing to put as much effort toward progressing the state of Toronto’s cyclist infrastructure as you are writing about Michael Bryant, then I’m willing to line up behind you.

    • nobody says:

      Let’s focus on how the legal system delt with this case and not get side tracked about Toronto’s bike infrastucture.

    • Christine says:

      So Paul, if someone rams you onto the hood of their car and drives approximately 30 feet before dumping you and starting to take off, you’ll calmly look for a pencil and paper to make note of their license plate? I would find that absolutely remarkable.

      Bryant’s road rage wasn’t a run-of-the-mill case of angry shouting and gesturing. He inflicted bodily harm on Darcy. Intentionally, IMHO.

  4. F.S. says:

    Glad to have found you – I’ve been watching too. The horror won’t fade, ‘tho they’re trying to drag it out until everybody forgets. I see centuries of injustice piling up behind this, for every poor soul who was not the child of wealth & privilege. What can we do? There must be something, or it will be open season on every poor working stiff. Somehow, we have to see justice done.

  5. eoin mcnulty-goodwin says:

    I think overall this review of the horrific acts and tragic outcome of this night is a very good thing……..the intentions however are unclear…..it’s claimed to be based on the facts….yet there is clearly a lot of interpretive and subjective speculation and I must say the below quote does not sit well with me

    “If he had a gun he would have shot Al in the back. If he had a bat he would have bashed Al’s head in from behind.”
    To me this seems completely unfounded and to be honest sounds like the sort of spin tactics that i would expect from the defense side of the case.

    • bryantwatch says:

      The “would have” was supposed to read “may have.” The edit was missed in the final version. Corrected now.

    • Christine says:

      Since Darcy is gone and can’t speak up for himself, I think it is entirely appropriate that we try to imagine how the situation might have seemed from his point of view. I say ‘well done’ to Mess Media.

  6. Tracey Janes says:

    Darcy was a wonderful man, and as said by all, full of laughs. He was the father of my two oldest children, Jonathan and Shayla. I just want it known that even though they are in foster care they did know their father and they will miss him. It is unfortunite that they didn’t get to spend much time with him, since they’ve been in c.a.s. care. They miss their Daddy very much!

  7. Taylor says:

    Man that just breaks my heart. My condolences.

  8. Truth Tooth says:

    An INNOCENT person goes back to the accident.
    A powerbitious person thinks about avoiding consequences.

  9. Allyson M says:

    Michael Bryant is a total psychopath. He has anger management issues that led him to murder someone because they annoyed him. I hope they put him away for everybody’s safety.

    As for anybody else who thinks it’s a good idea to “Stand your ground” with a car. Very stupid. It’s like standing your ground when someone sticks you up with a gun. Money and pride are not worth your life.

  10. What I don’t and will never “get” is why was the bike victim drug and alohol tested and the DRIVER of the car was not?

    From what I “hear” Bryant didn’t spend one night in jail but instead was given a warm blankie and a soft pillow and “rested” in the Officer’s lounge.

    NOPE, NO SPECIAL TREATMENT Given Bryant on this one.

  11. S.B. says:

    Too often these stories fade away after the initial excitement. Glad this one is followed. Great story of events above. My question to the judge would be Is there something a cyclist can do to deserve being murdered by someone with a judicial history.
    I hope this story will get more press as a message to other car drivers – don t kill cyclists…

  12. Linda says:

    Totally an uneccessary event. Completely preventable. Sometimes life lessons can be utterly harsh, as is the case for Bryant, but yet someone’s life was snuffed out needlessly and violently.

  13. sam says:

    This account literally gave me chills and made me cry, especially in light of the fact that Bryant walked today. What a horrible and needless death.

  14. Dan Corbett says:

    It’s a shame, I know. But the crown’s executive summary poses some very convincing arguments:

    http://media.thestar.topscms.com/acrobat/b4/68/4efecd484031924da24123d5fb1b.pdf

  15. Joe Malatchi says:

    Good riddance to another maniac homeless drunk loser with a bad haircut. all those losers on bikes deserve what they get. We should have contests for the most creative ways to wipe out the bike couriers – you could get points for style, speed, and using inanimate objects.

    His new nickname should be “battering ram” bwahahahahahahahaha happy trails, retard.

    • Jimi says:

      And you Joe are the perfect example of what’s really going on in this story. It’s good of you to highlight the stupidity and insensitivity drivers in Toronto show towards cyclists.

      I think everybody who reads this knows who the real retard is Joe.

    • nobody says:

      You just PWNED yourself

  16. rationibus says:

    I see now why, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, lawyers commenting on the case made no reference to the initial ramming of the cyclist by the car. They were waiting to hear what lie Bryant’s team would come up with to explain it. So he popped the clutch and this, we are to believe, threw Sheppard onto the hood.

    Why was this flimsy excuse not subjected to rigorous cross-examination on the stand?

    Instead we get a special prosecutor who appears to be pleading for the defence. Peck and Heinen did a good job of vilifying the guy who got killed. We have to take their word on that since none of these assertions were tested at trial. So Sheppard was a bad guy with a history of street altercations, but what exactly was he supposed to have done at the point Bryant is attempting to speed away after the initial smack-down?

    Incidentally, did they ever find any of Sheppard’s fingerprints on the steering wheel? I didn’t think so.

    The message seems to be that if you have a bad reputation don’t expect protection from the law. Reminds me of the days when prostitutes could be murdered with little public outcry since after all they were asking for it.

  17. jane crawford says:

    I can’t believe the basis for dropping the charges against Bryant. Supposedly Sheppard was previously filmed holding onto another car. Aside from questions such as, how do we know it was Sheppard in the pictures, the fact that the other driver did not proceed to kill the person should be used AGAINST Bryant, not in his defence… What is wrong with Bryant? More dangerous than a pitbull IMO.

  18. Bob says:

    The Lonesome Death of Darcy Sheppard
    (with apologies to Dylan)

    Michael J. Bryant killed Darcy Allan Sheppard
    With a convertible Saab that roared through the city
    On Bloor near Bay after a celebration
    And the cops were called in and his car was impounded
    As they rode him in custody down to the station
    And booked Michael J. Bryant for negligent driving.
    But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
    Take the rag away from your face
    Now ain’t the time for your tears.

    Michael J. Bryant, who at forty-four years
    Had been a golden boy in the eyes of his party
    Had rich wealthy parents to provide and protect him
    And had held high office in the politics of the province
    Reacted to his deed with a call to a PR firm
    To bring him fresh clothes and some quotes for the papers
    And in a matter of hours on bail was out walking.
    But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
    Take the rag away from your face
    Now ain’t the time for your tears.

    Darcy Allan Sheppard was a bicycle courier
    He was thirty-three years and had fathered four children
    Had grown up in countless foster homes in his boyhood
    And had few possessions except for his bicycle
    And hated when drivers would ignore that same bicycle
    Chose to stand up for his rights in the streets of his city
    And lectured at drivers about the rules of the road
    Got rammed from behind and knocked down by a car
    And angry then rose and grabbed on to that car
    Determined to bring a reckless driver to justice
    But was smashed on a post box, a hydrant, a pole
    And was left to die bleeding in the street where he lay
    Had never spoken before to Michael J. Bryant.
    But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
    Take the rag away from your face
    Now ain’t the time for your tears.

    In the backrooms of justice a crown attorney was chosen
    And he looked over the facts the defense had given to him
    To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
    And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
    And that even the nobles get properly handled
    Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
    And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
    Stared at the person who had driven so reckless
    Who just happened to be angry about being delayed
    And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
    And said any one of us here could have been in this place
    And dropped every last charge against Michael J. Bryant.
    Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
    Bury the rag deep in your face
    For now’s the time for your tears.

  19. rationibus says:

    Good work Bob. A fitting elegy, respectful and true. Thanks.

  20. Mike Montague says:

    A perpetually pissed off and bitter bicyclist pedaling around town instigating confrontations with people in expensive cars (jelous much?) gets bumped off. This is almost as good as when they made a pancake out of Rachel Corrie.

  21. Mike Montague says:

    jelous=jealous

    • Chase says:

      Let me guess – you and that Malatchi twat aren’t bike riders, eh? Drive everywhere do ya? I expect it’s been a while since you weighed less than 150 kg. D’ya have trouble with stairs? When was the last time you saw yer dick without a mirror?

  22. [...] ride and vigil will commemorate the first anniversary of Sheppard’s death on August 31, [...]

  23. I was obvious for all people of the World and I that the Government of Ontario has hired various killers as the politicians and police in Toronto.

    The murder of Shappard is another evidence that it is impossible the killers hired by the Government be charged or even if they were charged be convicted such as the murderer Bryant that finally prosecutor dropped ALL charges and if the case was before a trial judge, certainly corrupt Judges Ian Nordheimer, or Wilkins, or Duchrame would dismiss the charges as they did in the case of nine constables of Toronto Police that RCMP with hard work charged them for “Theft, Conspiracy, Torture, assault” and other charges that corrupt judge Nordheimer stayed the trial …

    We all know that under name of “Queen” it is impossible justice be served… Ontario must have it own independent Government by separating from Canada

  24. [...] Read the rest at Bryant Watch Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized by messmeedia. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

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