Everyone’s talking about Mike. That’s Michael Bryant, former Ontario attorney general, now charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a vehicle causing the death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard.
“He’s gonna get off easy,” a woman told me a few days ago. “He’s got friends in high places.”
“I think there’s more to this story,” a fellow journalist told me. “I think Michael was worried for his safety.”
Early reports indicate a cyclist got off his bike and was hanging on to the driver’s side of a convertible, allegedly driven by Bryant, when the cyclist fell under the car’s wheels. Was the cyclist attacking the driver? That question will undoubtedly be raised in court.
“He’s toast,” said another friend, a veteran political watcher. “What a sad end to a promising career.”
As with all incidents involving public figures, this one is stimulating lots of conversation and debate. And that’s good, because the issues are significant.
First, “do celebrities get off easy?” I’d have to say no. There are plenty of stories involving lesser-known criminals who get a slap on the wrist for serious crime. Do any of us believe pedophiles, rapists, murderers or other low-lifes get the sentences they deserve?
In fact, celebrities may have it worse. Because their crimes inevitably attract media coverage, there’s a temptation to make an example of them, to avoid looking soft.
And many celebrities have to walk away from their careers – briefly or permanently – while charges are heard. Bryant has already resigned as CEO of Invest Toronto. How many of us would have to do the same?
Speaking of media, celebrities also have to live out painful situations in the public eye.
Bryant’s face is on the front page of papers; he held a press conference about the incident. If it happened to you or me, it might make a paragraph on page 17.
Fifteen pedestrians have already died on Toronto’s roadways this year. Do we know any of their names? Do we know the names of people charged in those accidents? No. But we know Sheppard’s name precisely because Bryant has been charged. This crash will now and forever be part of Bryant’s legacy.
Bryant has tasted the upside of celebrity; such are the downsides.
Another issue – what to do about road rage? We’ve all been cut off, honked at, flipped the middle finger or shouted at by an irate driver. Sometimes we’re at fault.
A friend and I used to joke that we should get “sorry” signs printed that we could hold up to other drivers when we mess up a lane change or react too slowly to a light change.
But apologies, and patience, are in short supply out there, with tragic consequences. When I’m behind the wheel I assume every other driver is drunk, packing heat and ready to use it at the slightest provocation. When I get honked or yelled at (not often) I simply back off – way off - even change my course if need be to get as far away from the individual as possible.
I never, under any circumstances, trade words, glances or gestures. It’s just asking for trouble.
Final issue – is this the end of Bryant’s career? People said that about Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, too, after he was involved in a car crash in 1969 that killed his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.
In a statement at that time, Kennedy pondered whether to resign and asked voters to “think this through with me.” He expressed his hope to “make some further contribution to our state and mankind.” He won re-election with 62% of the vote.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. celebrated his long public service and mourned his death.