Watching the impromptu memorial for Darcy Sheppard—the outrage, the catcalls of “he didn’t deserve to die” directed at the camera crew, and all that—I felt more than a little peeved off. At that time, it wasn’t public knowledge that (a) Mr. Sheppard was fall-off-his-bike drunk; (b) that he had been in an altercation with his girlfriend, and subsequently with police, barely an hour before, and was therefore very likely to be belligerent; that (c) he had confronted Mr. Bryant and (it is alleged) attempted to choke him. Yet here were people acting as if they were in possession of all the facts: in their version of reality, Michael Bryant, without provocation and with malice aforethought, ran down a helpless cyclist, dragging him for 150 meters. Two wheels good, four wheels bad. It’s automatic.
I had a bad feeling about the whole thing right off—my wife, who has known a few bicycle couriers in her time, even more so. She was the one who noticed how everybody remarked about Mr. Sheppard’s charisma: the phrase “life of the party” kept coming up. A red flag fluttered around in my head, and on that flag was written one word: drugs. I figured that Mr. Life-Of-The-Party simply had to be on something if he thought that latching on to a car or its driver could possibly end well. Hell, I think it would take several somethings to convince me of that. High doses of all of them, too.
Sure enough, by this morning it was all over the news that Mr. Sheppard could hardly ride upright, he was so drunk.
Did Mr. Sheppard deserve to die? Well, yes, in fact, he did. When you engage in potentially suicidal behaviour (like, say, riding a bike drunk through downtown Toronto, confronting a motorist and then hanging off the side of the car) and find yourself dead, you’re in no position to argue the monstrous unfairness of it all.
That’s not a politically correct thing to say. Christie Blatchford writes in the Globe and Mail that in any encounter between a bicycle and a car, because of the extreme mismatch, “the cyclist is always inherently right.” Bzzzzt, sorry, can’t agree there.
Oh, I’d love to: after all, I don’t drive and I do commute by bike. I’ve had a few close calls (“brushbacks”, they call them) from drivers who were plainly in the wrong. But I’ve seen a very great many people on bikes that appear completely ignorant of even the most basic rules of the road, and I think Christie’s looking at this ass-backwards. Because of the extreme mismatch, any encounter between a cyclist and a car is likely going to render matters of right and wrong pretty much moot to the broken corpse of the cyclist. And cyclists know that. Or at least, they ought to, and ride accordingly. I do, anyway. The thought of consuming alcohol and then getting on a bike…what, was he deliberately trying to kill himself?
Even if Christie’s correct, in any contact between a cyclist and a driver…such as, for instance, if a cyclist tries to choke a driver…the cyclist is always and forever wrong, wrong, WRONG. Because there’s just no conceivable way you can make contact with a driver behind the wheel of a car…while you’re on a bike.
A prediction, and one I share with my dad: Bryant is going to have one of his charges, criminal negligence causing death, dropped, and the dangerous driving causing death will be reduced to dangerous driving. That’s if the court finds Mr. Sheppard bears any responsibility at all for his own demise—and I don’t see how it can find anything else. In any event, I don’t see Mr. Bryant getting jail time out of this, which will doubtless enrage a few of the “two wheels good, four wheels bad” group. Boo-hoo on them.