Connect to share and comment

A collision of consequence

In the poshest part of Toronto, a fatal traffic accident lays bare the power of privilege.

Michael Bryant, the former attorney general of Ontario's Liberal government, speaks to reporters outside a police station after being charged with criminal negligence causing death in Toronto, Sept. 1, 2009. Bryant has also been charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death after an aboriginal cyclist was killed. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — Road rage incidents between cyclists and drivers are usually mismatched affairs. The difference in metal bulk obviously puts cyclists at a disadvantage. But the clash that became the talk of Toronto last week was made uneven by much more.

The spectacular confrontation — and resulting death — brought together characters from opposite sides of the tracks in downtown Toronto.

Driving the car, a black Saab convertible, was Michael Bryant, once the powerful attorney general of Ontario, a 43-year-old Harvard scholar touted as a future premier of the province.

On the bicycle was Darcy Allen Sheppard, 33, an aboriginal bike courier removed from the care of his alcoholic mother at the age of 4. Years later, he too struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse. Along the way he fathered four children.

Fate, or tragic coincidence, joined the two on Monday, Aug. 31, at about 9:50 pm, on Bloor St. W. — one of the most exclusive shopping strips in the country, where Gucci, Prada, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands have stores.

Bryant was with his 42-year-old wife, a leading entertainment lawyer. They had just finished celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary in strikingly modest fashion, according to the Toronto Star newspaper: two shawarmas and two iced teas, for a grand total of $15, at a nearby fast food joint. Sheppard’s previous moments were somewhat more agitated. He had tried unsuccessfully to get into his girlfriend’s apartment. Her roommate says Sheppard was drunk. Police were called. The women begged police to drive Sheppard home but officers put him back on his bike and ordered him away.

How Sheppard and Bryant’s worlds collided is unclear. Police describe it as a “minor collision.” What witnesses are clearer about is that at one point Sheppard, unhurt but angry, slammed his bag down on Bryant’s hood.

Next came a scene out of a Hollywood action film: After a sharp exchange of words, Bryant, still sitting inside the convertible, pulled away. Witnesses say Sheppard chased the car and grabbed hold of the driver’s side.

One witness described seeing sparks coming from Sheppard’s cycling shoes as the car dragged him along the asphalt. Then the car veered across the opposite lanes, past oncoming traffic, and sideswiped trees and newspaper boxes on the sidewalk. Witnesses said it looked like Bryant was trying to swat Sheppard off his car with the obstacles.