Where Is The Balanced Response?

Background Reading


This week’s tragic death of yet another cyclist from the North Side of Chicago has resulted in “all of the stops being pulled out” in an effort to get justice for Bobby Cann  in the trail of the man whose actions caused his death.

Active Transportation Alliance is organizing the effort to provide a presence in the courtroom during the hearing that will occur this July. They write:

On Thursday, May 30, at approximately 6:35 p.m., Robert “Bobby” Cann was riding his bike on the 1300 block of North Clybourn Street when he was struck by a vehicle being driven by a Park Ridge man named Ryne San Hamel.

Bobby Cann Memorial During Critical Mass Ride

Bobby Cann Memorial During Critical Mass Ride

Bobby was critically injured, and although several witnesses, passers by and nearby shop owners rushed to his aid, he was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m.

San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide, felony aggravated driving under the influence involving a death, and other misdemeanor charges, according to police.

According to prosecutors, San Hamel was doing 20 mph over the speed limit, or over 50 mph in a 30 mph zone and his blood alcohol level was .127 at the time of the crash. The legal limit in Illinois is .08.

By all accounts, Bobby was a warm and caring individual with deep roots in the Chicago cycling community, who thrived on sharing his love of cycling and Chicago with family, friends, coworkers and the general public.

He was described as an ambassador and advocate not just for cycling, but for safe cyclingHe also just sounded like an all around great guy.

I’m sorry that I never met him, I’m sorry that I’ll never have that chance, and on behalf of the staff at Active Trans, I want to extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends, loved ones and coworkers.

As for San Hamel, there’s no excuse for his actions. We all want to see justice served, for him, for his family, for his friends, but most of all for society.

What we don’t want to see is a deal offering lesser charges in exchange for a plea of guilty for reasons of politics or expediency. We do not want to see Bobby’s death reduced to a misdemeanor affair. We do not want to see the death of another cyclist or pedestrian treated as “just one of those things that happens.”

We want the state’s attorney to prosecute San Hamel for reckless homicide and felony aggravated driving under the influence involving a death, because that’s what happened. And we do not want to see San Hamel behind the wheel of a car ever again.

There’s currently a grassroots petition asking for San Hamel to stand full trial and not recieve a negotiated plea bargain to determine his sentence. Please consider signing it. 

Photo of Bobby Cann memorial event courtesy of Steven Vance and Streetsblog Chicago.

It is an appropriately strongly worded message that helps those who either knew Mr. Cann or feel solidarity with him because of his use of the bicycle as basic transportation, grieve over his death and their sense of loss.

Sometimes the level of response is limited to those on the North Side of the city. There was no response like this for cyclists who died on the South Side last year. And there is certainly nothing approaching this level of vitriol for one of our own who senselessly murdered a pedestrian in San Francisco, CA.

A Study In Similarities

The street where Chris Bucchere was riding his bicycle down when he ran over 71-year-old pedestrian Sutchi Hui who was crossing Castro, at Market street. Sutchi Hui, died. In San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, April 7, 2012. Photo: Jill Schneider, The Chronicle

The street where Chris Bucchere was riding his bicycle down when he ran over 71-year-old pedestrian Sutchi Hui who was crossing Castro, at Market street. Sutchi Hui, died. In San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, April 7, 2012.
Photo: Jill Schneider, The Chronicle

In the Cyclists case in California we read the following:

The bicyclist who struck and killed a pedestrian in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood last year must stand trial on felony vehicular manslaughter charges, a judge ruled Thursday.

Chris Bucchere cried softly during the final argument of his preliminary hearing when his attorney described him as a good person and a family man who gives back to his community.

Bucchere, a 36-year-old San Francisco resident, was riding his bicycle south on Castro Street during morning rush hour last March 29 when he collided with Sutchi Hui, 71, of San Francisco, who was crossing in the south crosswalk along Market Street with his wife. Hui died of his injuries four days later.

After Superior Court Judge Andrew Cheng issued his ruling, Bucchere, who is free on bail, strode quickly out of the courtroom and did not speak. His attorney, Ted Cassman, declined to comment.

Cassman sought unsuccessfully to have the charge reduced to a misdemeanor.

What is very striking here is the stark similarity between the attempts to shield both this cyclist and the driver in the Chicago crash. If you want to see what I mean try reading through the article which recounts the online discussion between supports of San Hamel and those who mourned Bobby Cann. Both groups of supporters for the person deemed to be the perpetrator of the crashes wanted to make certain everyone understood how much humanity was in their friend. And ironically the attorney for the cyclist who killed the pedestrian has made an attempt to do what no doubt Mr. Hamel’s attorney will do and that is get the charges reduced.

The tendency of the Urban Cycling Community is to ratchet up the rhetoric to the point of absurdity when one of their own is killed. You have not heard much (if anything) about the equally senseless killing in California by a cyclist because it does not fit the stereotype of victim that cyclists love to spin regarding themselves.

I will believe that cyclists are actually interested in something other than mere retribution when the likes of Active Transportation Alliance and StreetsBlog Chicago take on this case in California with equal ferocity. But I doubt seriously that they will. It would cause their supporters and their benefactors to reconsider their support and that would mean dollars lost and well you know how that usually plays out.

The trick for these two groups and others like them is to keep the Urban Cyclist Community at the point of orgasmic intensity long enough to wring out a few more dollars during their next fundraiser or to gin up support for themselves as the major player in a high profile case here in Chicago. I would bet that few if any of the folks volunteering to help with the court appearances for the Chicago case have much understanding of what is going on in California.

The cycling equivalents of Active Transportation Alliance have been strangely silent at least in terms of the media reports that I have been able to follow. I suspect this is something that really gives cycling a “black eye” in San Francisco and goodness knows there has been a lot of negative publicity over the past year regarding the scofflaw behavior of cyclist in The Wiggle.

We Need To Have A Grown Up Response To Tragedies

All of the name calling and chest beating that has been going on over on the ChainLink Forum has trivialized this latest death of a cyclist. If we are truly all about safety for all then we have to have a measured response to the deaths of both cyclists and pedestrians that is also consistent. It needs to be the case here in Chicago that no matter which part of town you are in when you are killed everyone mourns. But that is largely not the case in this city.

What we tell people is that our goal is a reduction in collisions and injuries across all three of the segments of roadway users. That means that whether a cyclist kills a pedestrian or a motorist kills a cyclist or a pedestrian we are equally outraged. We do not behave in the manner that was demonstrated on the ChainLink Forum a scan few days ago.

Failing to have a balance response to both the victims and the perpetrators is a sure sign of hypocrisy on our part.

Advocacy groups should stop feeding the hatred of cyclists for motorists by shedding some light on the outrageous actions of misbehaving cyclists as well. Otherwise these advocacy groups are nothing more than hate-mongers of the worst sort.