Michael Bryant’s privileged class and road rage

Mess Media, November 11, 2009

On August 31, 2009, former attorney general of Ontario, Michael Bryant, in a fit of road rage intentionally slammed his car into cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard after Sheppard passed his car and pulled to a stop in front of Bryant at a red light in a construction zone.

After Sheppard grabbed on to Bryant’s car, Bryant sped away on the wrong side of the road, and mounted the curb, deliberately smashing Sheppard into a mailbox, fire hydrant and other fixed obstacles, eventually killing him.

Since the attack, many people in the media that knew Michael Bryant have come to his defence. Most of the defence is connected to Bryant’s $600 per hour public relations firm Navigator Ltd. but some others genuinely find it difficult to believe that someone like Bryant could be capable of such a vicious attack. He is educated, prominent and successful.

“And he is never going to commit another crime in his life. Why would you have to put a guy like that in jail?” says criminal lawyer, Robert Rotenberg echoing what many of Bryant’s friends are thinking.

But what kind of person gets carried away by road rage?

In the span of about thirteen months there have been at least three high profile cases of road rage attacks on cyclists. Two of them resulted in critical injuries and one in death. In all three attacks, the perpetrators were from the privileged class – a doctor, a show jumping son of wealthy parents and a former attorney general for Ontario. All three perpetrators deliberately drove their vehicles into their victims and all three seemed to want to punish their victims or teach them a lesson.

In July 2008 in Los Angeles, respected Dr. Christopher Thompson, 60, intentionally slammed on his brakes in front of two cyclists after passing them and shouting at them to ride single file. A police officer testified that Thompson told him he slammed on his brakes “to teach them a lesson.”

Ron Peterson, crashed face-first into the rear windshield of the doctor’s car, breaking several teeth and his nose and lacerating his face. The other victim, Christian Stoehr, suffered a separated shoulder.

Thompson who was convicted of several felonies faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced December 3rd. [Update below]

After hearing the verdict Peterson, said “our hope is that this brings to light how vulnerable cyclists are out there.”

In September 2008, in Britain, a former international show jumper, Christopher Robertson, 21, the son of wealthy stud farm owners deliberately drove his car into cyclist Leslie Smith, 66 because he felt Smith was taking up too much space on the road.

After critically injuring Smith, Robertson fled the scene and set about covering up his role in the attack. Robertson, who was upset that Smith was “hogging the road,” was found guilty of dangerous driving and perverting the course of justice. He was sentenced to only 33 months in jail.

These kinds of road rage attacks against cyclists happen quite frequently although in most cases they do not result in serious injury or death.

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Cam Woolley said he’s dealt with plenty of road rage and aggressive driving cases during his career, and there’s no way to pigeonhole the type of drivers who lose control behind the wheel.

“We’ve seen even soccer moms (commit road rage),” Woolley said.

“People get so angry they lose judgment.”

“What’s interesting is road ragers tend to have above-average income and above-average education… they’re often middle-class people with responsible jobs.”

A recent Globe and Mail article (Brain’s ‘rage system’ cuts rational response, September 3, 2009) suggests that it doesn’t take much to trigger a road rage attack.

Experts say that all it takes is a raised middle finger to trigger the brain’s “rage system,” which shuts down rational decision-making and activates the “fight or flight” response, sending adrenalin pulsing through the bloodstream and preparing limbs for battle.

“It overpowers the brain and literally shuts down the sensory systems and the power of reason,” said W. Doyle Gentry, author of Anger Management for Dummies and founding editor of the Journal of Behavioural Medicine. “You are literally out of your mind,” he said.

York University’s David Wiesenthal is one of the country’s leading experts on road rage. He said that being behind the wheel in this state can be especially deadly.

Normally, when people are faced with life-altering decisions, from marriage to how to treat a disease, they have time to step back and rationally consider their options, he said.

But on the road, in the heat of the moment, they don’t have the time or cognitive ability to take into account potential consequences, from injuring themselves or others to winding up in jail.

“Someone’s life can take a tremendous turn in a few moments,” Dr. Wiesenthal said.

While it may be difficult for some of Michael Bryant’s friends to believe that he could be capable of such a vicious attack, it’s clear that history, traffic experts and science all agree.

Unfortunately it makes complete sense that someone like Michael Bryant behind the wheel of a car would attack and kill a vulnerable cyclist in fit of road rage.

Update: Dr. Christopher Thompson was sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting cyclists, Ron Peterson, and Christian Stoehr.

The LA Times reports:

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington called the case a “wake-up call” to motorists and cyclists and urged local government to provide riders with more bike lanes. He said he believed that Thompson had shown a lack of remorse during the case and that the victims were particularly vulnerable while riding their bicycles.

9 Responses to Michael Bryant’s privileged class and road rage

  1. rationibus says:

    Good article. The evidence suggests that Bryant just lost it.

  2. J.M. says:

    “While it may be difficult for some of Michael Bryant’s friends to believe that he could be capable of such a vicious attack,….”

    There`s a fine line between animal abuse and human abuse.
    The former Liberal Attorney General is responsible for the deaths of 5000+ innocent puppies and dogs in Ontario SO FAR.

    You can`t get much more vicious than that unless you start attacking humans.

    His friends need to wake up and smell the coffee.

    To quote Attorney General Troy King of Alabama

    “I was asked the other day……what would you say to somebody who says well they’re just dogs. I’d say to somebody who says they’re just dogs – that’s probably somebody who would say they’re just kids or they’re just seniors. We can not allow the defenseless among us to be abused and hurt and caged and chained as we see here.”

    Michael Bryant is quite capable of a vicious attack.
    He proved that as Attorney General of Ontario.

    R.I.P Mr Sheppard
    There were warning signs that Mr Bryant didn`t respect life and was a coward to boot.

  3. fastbike says:

    With all of his riding about on his bike in recent weeks, Bryant had better hope he dosent piss off some irate driver. It would be a ironic comedy of justice if he were to fall victim to the same crime that he particiapted in.
    Mostly justice though

  4. living working cycling downtown says:

    “And he is never going to commit another crime in his life. Why would you have to put a guy like that in jail?”

    Is this really the logic of a criminal lawyer? If asked on August 30, one day before the vicious assault on Sheppard, wouldn’t Rotenberg swear Bryant could never be capable of committing even one criminal act?? Apparently we should believe that Bryant had just one of these rages brewing somewhere deep inside, that he just needed to get it out of his system and then he wouldn’t be a threat to others? No, you put a “guy like that” in jail because he committed a serious crime, and there are consequences for your actions. End of story.

  5. rationibus says:

    Rotenberg is the same biased lawyer claiming “there was no intent” as though he could read Bryant’s mind. No judge would take him seriously.

  6. J.M. says:

    Bryant`s case has been put off until Dec 7
    Once again he didn`t bother appearing.

  7. J.M. says:

    From the National Post

    “It was also announced yesterday that Justice Paul Bentley has been assigned to act as a case manager and oversee the pretrial, to ensure no conflicts of interest occur.”

    I think someone should be asking if Justice Paul Bentley is related to the present Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley and if Paul Bentley is an Ontario Justice?

    That`s a conflict of interest right there.

  8. Feldwebel Wolfenstool says:

    Really? Only 33 months? Does that mean if I run down a cop, can I get away with a mere 33 months, minus 2/3 of my sentence for “good Time”? Hmmmm…now ya got me thinkin’….

  9. jim adams says:

    And what of the road rage pick-up truck driver who willfully drove his truck into internationally acclaimed artist and cyclist Greg Curnoe. Curnoe and several members of the Queen City Cycling Club of London, ON were out for a training ride and climbing a hill in the slow lane when the driver in a fit of rage ran all of them down.

    What a surprise! He was not charged with man slaughter and is now a free man.

    Cycling: zero
    Canadian Justice: zero
    Lawyers: lots of cash

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