The death of Toronto bike messenger Darcy Allan Sheppard is similar to the 1999 murder of Chicago bike messenger Thomas McBride.
Mess Media, November 19, 2009
The case of the road rage killing of Toronto bike messenger, Darcy Allan Sheppard by former attorney general Michael Bryant has many similarities to the murder of another bike messenger, ten years earlier.
Sheppard was killed on August 31, 2009 after Bryant deliberately rammed his car into him knocking Sheppard to the ground. Before mowing Sheppard down, Bryant had threatened him twice by accelerating his car up close to Sheppard and then stopping without hitting him. After the initial attack Bryant attempted to flee the scene on the wrong side of the road with Sheppard holding on to Bryant’s vehicle. Bryant killed Sheppard by smashing him into trees, a mailbox and fire hydrant before driving away.
On the morning of April 26, 1999, Thomas McBride was riding eastbound on West Washington on his way to work as a bike messenger in the Chicago Loop. Witnesses reported a near miss or minor altercation between McBride and the driver of a green 1997 Chevy Tahoe.
The SUV, driven by Carnell Fitzpatrick, cut McBride off after running a stop sign. McBride slammed his hand against the SUV as a means of alerting the driver to his location and that Fitzpatrick was coming perilously close to hitting him. The two exchanged words and Fitzpatrick like Michael Bryant steered his vehicle up close behind the cyclist before accelerating forward to deliberately hit him.
In McBride’s case, he began to weave his bicycle in an attempt to get away from his assailant. Fitzpatrick accelerated again knocking McBride over and dragging him and his bicycle under his truck. Fitzpatrick drove straight over McBride killing him. Thomas McBride’s last living act was to pull the license plate of Fitzpatrick’s SUV under his dying body to ensure his killer would be identified. Then Fitzpatrick like Michael Bryant, fled the scene, speeding away from his victim’s dying body.
Immediately after the incident both Fitzpatrick and Bryant made phone calls from their cell phones. Fitzpatrick called his friend Demetrius Terry, to get in touch with Fitzpatrick’s godmother, a Chicago police officer. Fitzpatrick would turn himself into to his godmother about an hour later after discovering that the police had his license plate. Bryant called his lawyer and hired a public relations firm, Navigator Ltd to spin reports of his irrational behaviour in his favour.
Fitzpatrick was charged with first-degree murder and bail was set at $200,000. Bryant was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. He was permitted to shower, shave and change into a designer suit before being released without bail. Despite compelling evidence neither Michael Bryant nor Carnell Fitzpatrick were charged with leaving the scene of the accident.
The 2000 Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC 2000) were dedicated to the memory of Thomas McBride.
It would take more than two years to bring Carnell Fitzpatrick to trial. During that time the Chicago cycling community worried that Fitzpatrick would escape justice by portraying the murder as just an unfortunate series of events that ended in a tragic car accident.
The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation’s T.C. O’Rourke:
I truly believe that without intervention, that there is a better-than-not chance that Carnell Fitzpatrick will be found not guilty on the charge of first degree murder. We need to deliver the message to the Judge, the Prosecution, the members of the jury, and to the defendant himself, that simply being behind the wheel at the time will not confuse this murder.
We need to support Tommy’s friends and family and let them know we have not forgotten. We need to let our legal system, our media and our society know that we are watching and that this will not be excused.
Ultimately the Chicago messenger community and cycling community packed the courtroom every day and watched the case closely. Chicago bike messenger Travis Culley included a moving description of the killing in his book, “The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power”, which helped bring more attention to the case.
The trial would become a case about Fitzpatrick’s intent as the defense attempted to rationalize and justify Fitzpatrick’s irrational behaviour. The defense would claim that Fitzpatrick was only going 25-30 miles per hour and hit McBride no more than three or four seconds after turning the corner and that Fitzpatrick’s brakes failed. Fitzpatrick’s lawyer, Sam Adam portrayed the murder as “a true tragedy but that accidents occur.”
The case hinged on eyewitness testimony. Three people testified that Fitzpatrick deliberately mowed McBride down. All three gave statements to the police at the scene of the crime. There was also testimony in support of Fitzpatrick. Like Michael Bryant, Carnell Fitzpatrick had a witness that didn’t give a statement to police. Michael Bryant’s wife left the scene of the attack on Sheppard without giving a witness statement to police but she will of course testify on his behalf in court. Carnell Fitzpatrick’s lifelong friend, Demetrius Terry, testified that he just happened to be driving behind Fitzpatrick when the attack on McBride occurred but he didn’t remain at the scene to give his statement to the police.
Chicago cyclist Dan Korn attended the proceedings and documented them every day. He reported Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Kelly’s closing arguments:
Mr. Kelly then gave the state’s initial closing argument, speaking slowly and clearly. He began by saying, “Carnell Fitzpatrick was not in control of the SUV that crushed and ran over Tom McBride. It was his anger and rage that were in control.” He said that Mr. Fitzpatrick reacted because “some punk has the nerve, the audacity, to slap his hand” on the hood of his SUV. He added that it was “his rage, his anger, that made him take that turn” to pursue Tom McBride. He said that when the SUV’s first bump of the bike didn’t have its desired effect, while McBride was “pedaling for his life, and cut to the curb,” the defendant followed and “his rage made him push the accelerator.” He said that people “may call it road rage, but the law calls it first degree murder.”
Mr. Kelly then asked if the defendant’s behavior was reckless. He defined reckless as when someone disregards a risk and makes a gross deviation from the care of a reasonable person. He said that Mr. Fitzpatrick had performed this act wantonly. He defined reckless homicide as an act that unintentionally causes death, and said that if it had been winter and snowy out and he had known that the truck was sliding, that would be reckless homicide, but if Mr. McBride had been in a crosswalk and was Mr. Fitzpatrick’s sworn enemy, that would not be reckless. He said that the difference is intent. He added that when Carnell Fitzpatrick first made the turn and bumped the bicycle, he was reckless at the very least, in a “three ton vehicle compared to this puny bicycle,” and pointed out to the jury the bicycle that was sitting in the courtroom. But, he said, Tommy didn’t go down, and pedaled as fast as he could to the curb, when Carnell Fitzpatrick turned behind him and accelerated, and that that crossed the line from recklessness to homicide. He asked the jury, if they believe Mr. Fitzpatrick that he saw the bike 15 to 20 feet from the intersection, “How long does it take a powerful SUV to catch a bike?” He added, “There was no escape,” and that if this was not reckless and not an accident, it was murder.
“Tommy McBride and his bicycle had every right to be on that stretch of road,” he said. “Tommy McBride had every right to be angry about almost being hit, and Tommy McBride had every right to live,” Mr. Kelly said slowly. “He set out to teach McBride, that punk, a lesson: don’t you dare mess with Carnell Fitzpatrick, and he did.” He added, “What a terrible, terrible lesson it was.”
Mr. Kelly noted that the jury had been told (by the defense, in Mr. Adam’s opening statement) that if things had happened differently, they wouldn’t be here. “And that’s true,” he said. “If [Fitzpatrick] had kept his temper, we wouldn’t be here, but Tom McBride would be.”
The jury found Carnell Fitzpatrick guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
On December 5, 2001, the Chicago Tribune reported on the conviction:
After the verdict, George Christensen broke down as he talked about McBride, a Chicago bike messenger for seven years with whom Christensen had worked for many years. “My toughest day of messengering–through extreme cold, extreme heat, whatever–was the day after he was killed,” Christensen said in the hallway outside Courtroom 301. “I could really feel his presence that day.” Christensen said he hoped the verdict would send a signal to drivers that “vehicles are murder weapons.” He added that he thought the trial’s outcome would give “bicyclists a little insurance that the law is on their side.” “It could have happened to any of us,” he said. “We’ve all had these confrontations.”
During sentencing Judge Kenneth Wadas said that
“It happens every day; most people shake it off, but some choose to escalate it further. They let their ego get the best of them,”
“They have to show they have the edge; in this case, a Tahoe definitely has the edge over a bicycle. He mowed him down.”
“I’ve been practicing law for the last 26 years, and I have never been involved in road rage cases. … I’ve had two in the last few months,” Wadas said. “It makes me conclude there is more road rage out there than meets the eye. This sentence, I hope, will deter others from the crime.”
The trial of Carnell Fitzpatrick has lessons for the upcoming trial of Michael Bryant. Despite all the supposition and conjecture Bryant’s trial will be forced to deal with the facts. Eyewitness testimony and surveillance video will be the key evidence at trial. Torontonians must watch the case closely, keep the pressure for justice on and ensure that the court witnesses overwhelming support from the community for Darcy Allan Sheppard.
More information on the death of Thomas McBride:
Full Coverage of The Carnell Fitzpatrick Road Rage Murder Trial is available here