Michael Bryant relives deadly encounter with cyclist in '28 Seconds'
Vanessa Greco, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, August 21, 2012 10:02AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 21, 2012 10:17AM EDT
Ontario’s former attorney general Michael Bryant is going public about his deadly 2009 encounter with a Toronto cyclist, saying the incident “really woke something” in him.
Bryant attempts to spell out those feelings in his new book “28 Seconds,” which recounts the death of cyclist Darcy Allen Sheppard, as well as his past struggles with alcohol.
In an interview with CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday, Bryant said many “begged him” not to write the book, for fear that he would reignite debate over Sheppard’s death.
“To be accused of killing someone is awful. But, on the other hand, that’s not a good reason not to do a book because I might subject myself to criticism,” he said.
“I wanted to try and share my experiences and hope around recovering from that crucible.”
Bryant was driving home from an anniversary dinner with his wife when he got into a minor collision with the 33-year-old cyclist. Court heard that Sheppard grabbed onto his convertible and struggled with Bryant at the wheel.
What followed has been the subject of impassioned debate.
The convertible veered out of control. Sheppard hit a fire hydrant on the sidewalk, while the car drove off at about 34 km/h. That’s when Sheppard hit the curb, suffering a fatal blow to his head.
Bryant said he was in a jail cell when the first media reports about the incident came out, peppered with damning allegations such as “road rage” and “drunk driving.”
At the time, Bryant said he wasn’t even aware that Sheppard had died.
Police charged Bryant with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving, charges that were eventually withdrawn. But by the time word of the incident had spread, some had already convicted Bryant in the court of public opinion.
“OK, so this is my worst nightmare, I thought,” recalled Bryant, who has said he quit drinking nearly three years before the altercation with Sheppard.
The tragedy and ensuing chaos, he said, forced Bryant to reach out to others.
Bryant said he leaned on his then-wife Susan Abramovitch, though the couple would separate after his charges were dropped. As well, he said he relied on his lawyer to build a solid defence and was buoyed by support from strangers.
“I came to see that people can catch you,” he said. “If you just don’t isolate yourself in a crisis and you allow people to help, it makes all the difference in the world.”
But it wasn’t the first time Bryant was forced to admit he needed help.
The former politician’s book also details the hazy hung-over years that preceded his run-in with Sheppard. It offers a candid account of how, in the early 2000s, he struggled with alcohol while trying to fulfil his role as Ontario’s attorney general.
“I was a young attorney general and there were some times when I didn’t want to be the youngest attorney general in Ontario,” said Bryant.
“So I would drink to escape that, to escape myself.”
He began seeing a therapist, who asked him to keep a journal detailing his struggles with alcohol. Bryant said he lied in some entries, while others were short but candid.
“1 Beer today. Not hungover, but tired and cranky so very bad. Pissed off at that huge cocktail last night (a triple bourbon before dinner, 6 drinks in total),” reads a portion of one journal entry featured in Bryant’s book.
Cathartic as it was, the journal couldn’t foretell the events of Aug. 31, 2009.
Two lives would be changed that day.
Court would hear how Sheppard had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood when he crossed paths with Bryant. Witnesses would tell police that Sheppard had been aggressive with several other motorists around the time of the incident.
At the same time, many in Toronto’s cycling community rallied around the bike courier. Critics questioned Bryant’s driving, asking why he didn’t just take his foot off the pedal.
Prosecutors would later tell a packed courtroom about Sheppard’s troubled past, recalling his experiences in foster homes and alleged difficulty with substance abuse.
Sheppard, too, was labelled -- though he’ll never be able to tell his side of the story. Prosecutors argued he was the aggressor, and Bryant was just trying to get away.
Reflecting on the incident in his book, Bryant attempts to draw parallels between his own life and Sheppard’s, referring to the cyclist as “a man I’d never met, but a man I probably knew better than he, or anyone else, might have imagined.”
After his charges were dropped in May 2010, Bryant told reporters that he wishes the entire incident hadn’t happened. “None of it,” he said.
Debate about what happened that August night persists.
Of Sheppard’s death and the 28 seconds that preceded it, Bryant wrote:
“It was an immediate horror, and the greatest tragedy to which I’d ever been party.”