A rising political star once touted as a future premier, former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant now faces a pair of serious criminal charges after a Monday night collision in which a bike courier was killed.
Cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard, 33, a father of four and aspiring comedian, died in hospital after what started as a minor run-in between him and a Saab convertible along Bloor Street West in Yorkville.
Mr. Sheppard was fatally injured after he fell from a car allegedly driven by Mr. Bryant, 43.
Mr. Sheppard had grabbed on to the outside of the open-top convertible during an argument.
Now Mr. Sheppard's family and friends are coping with his death, while Mr. Bryant is charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. Ontario has called in an out-of-province prosecutor in an effort to prevent any perception of preferential treatment for Mr. Bryant, who left the provincial government three months ago.
Clad in a suit and striped tie picked up by a friend from his home, the Harvard-educated lawyer yesterday read a brief prepared statement.
"I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Sheppard," he said.
"May I ask for your understanding in [me]not making a statement today on Monday night's tragic events."
As he isn't considered a flight risk, Mr. Bryant was released with conditions until an October court date.
He has also hired a high-powered communications company in an apparent bid to stem political fallout. There was no word about his future at Invest Toronto, the municipal agency he led after stepping down as a cabinet minister and MPP.
"To all those who have offered support to my family over the past 12 hours, thank you," Mr. Bryant said. "And I would ask that the media continue to respect my family's need for distance and privacy for the next few days."
His lawyer, Andrew Evangelista, said he had nothing to add to Mr. Bryant's remarks.
Navigator Limited senior partner Robin Sears confirmed Mr. Bryant had retained the top-tier communications firm. He said Mr. Bryant will speak publicly again in the coming days.
The incident comes at a vulnerable time for Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Already facing questions about scandals over spending at eHealth Ontario and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, the arrest of a former cabinet minister put Mr. McGuinty in the spotlight again yesterday.
"It's just very sad, it is very tragic, how events that unfold in inside of a minute can have such a profound impact on people's lives, a negative impact," Mr. McGuinty said, careful not to mention Mr. Bryant by name, an approach also used by Mr. Miller.
Monday night's incident began in the early evening, when Mr. Sheppard was kicked out of his former girlfriend's apartment on George Street, in the Dundas Street East and Sherbourne Street area. Neighbour Annette Wabie said Mr. Sheppard was "drunk as a clunk," though a police source said he'd only had a few drinks.
Ms. Wabie saw Mr. Sheppard leave the apartment around 9 p.m.
"He started biking two, three feet and he falls off his bike because he's so drunk," she said.
Police were called to escort Mr. Sheppard away, sources said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bryant and his wife, entertainment lawyer Susan Abramovitch, were driving home after a quiet evening dinner to celebrate their 12th anniversary, a source close to Mr. Bryant told The Canadian Press.
Around 9:45 p.m., security camera footage shows Mr. Sheppard on his bike, pulling up around the driver's side of Mr. Bryant's car on Bloor Street, just east of Avenue Road in front of United Colors of Benetton. The strip of Bloor Street was under construction that night, leaving only one lane in each direction.
Mr. Sheppard gestured at the car and got off his bike when the car struck its back tire.
Witness Raajiv Rajadurai, 23, said the accident didn't look serious, but the cyclist seemed agitated. He saw the cyclist slam his backpack onto the car's hood and then grab the driver's side mirror as the vehicle sped away. The convertible's top was down.
"The driver was going so fast that at one point the biker was holding on to his car and there were sparks coming from the bottom of his shoes," Mr. Rajadurai said, adding Mr. Sheppard wasn't wearing a helmet.
"It seemed like the driver was trying to shake him off because he turned really suddenly, put on the brakes, jetted it one last time and then all your hear is three thumps and then the guy falls on the floor."
Ryan Brazeau was part of a crew doing work along the street in the two closed centre lanes, which Mr. Bryant's car crossed as it sped away.
"I heard the tires screech," Mr. Brazeau said "He [the cyclist]was right literally at the front windshield, almost holding on to the driver."
The car headed west in the lone eastbound lane, leaving Mr. Sheppard hanging off the driver's side and prone to the poles and trees lining the road as the Saab mounted the curb, witnesses said.
"He started going onto the sidewalk there," worker Manuel Machado said.
Police say Mr. Sheppard - still clinging to the driver's side of the car - hit a tree, a mailbox and possibly a fire hydrant before falling from the car, in front of the construction crew.
"You could hear hitting, something, bam, bam, bam," one worker said.
They said Mr. Sheppard was run over by the car's back tires as he fell, landing in front of make-up retailer Sephora.
The car continued on, stopping metres away at the Park Hyatt hotel at 4 Avenue Rd. Mr. Bryant and Ms. Abramovitch were inside the car and both called police, sources say. Mr. Bryant was arrested at the hotel, where his car sat under police watch until it was towed away at 5:20 a.m. Police said Mr. Bryant had not been drinking.
Mr. Sheppard, meanwhile, was bleeding from his mouth and ears, and from several gashes across his face. The workers say he came to briefly, tried to stand up, but was told by paramedics to lie down. He was later taken to St. Michael's Hospital and pronounced dead around 11 p.m.
At. Mr. Bryant's three-storey brick home in the Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue West area yesterday, children could be seen playing inside with a nanny. One neighbour said they saw Mr. Bryant leave the home around 6:45 p.m. Monday in his convertible with the top down.
Mr. Bryant returned home around 3 p.m. yesterday accompanied by an unidentified friend, and followed soon after by Mr. Evangelista.
The lawyer and friend left around 4 p.m., declining to speak in detail to reporters.
"You can just imagine what they're going through right now," one man said, as their car drove away.
Mr. Sheppard, meanwhile, was bleeding from his mouth and ears, and from several gashes across his face. The workers say he came to briefly, tried to stand up, but was told by paramedics to lay down. He was later taken to hospital and pronounced dead around 11 p.m.
"Different decisions on either part would have led to such different outcomes," said one collision reconstruction unit officer working at the scene of the crash. "It's just so bizarre."
The brother of Mr. Sheppard, who had been facing 61 outstanding criminal charges in his native Alberta, said he never had a violent streak.
"He was funny, he wanted to be a comedian," the younger brother, David Roy Sheppard, said in an interview from a Winnipeg jail, where he is serving a sentence for drug trafficking.
The brothers grew up in Edmonton, and the elder Mr. Sheppard moved to Toronto a few years ago to be closer to his two boys and two girls. David Roy Sheppard said he couldn't imagine Mr. Bryant would have felt threatened by his brother. "He's not violent at all, he's never been in jail for violence."
Colleagues in Toronto remembered him as helpful.
"He fixed people's cars, like he'd fix the tail lights on the couriers' cars," said Brian Harris, a long-time friend and fellow bike messenger.
With reports from Karen Howlett and Jennifer Yang