Cann Family Lawyer: We Need to Challenge the Culture of Dangerous Driving

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Memorial to Bobby Cann at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

The arraignment for Ryne San Hamel, the driver who fatally struck cyclist Bobby Cann, took place last Friday morning at the Cook County Courthouse at 26th and California. On May 29, San Hamel, 28, had a blood-alcohol content of .127 and was driving his Mercedes sedan at 50 mph when he struck Cann, 25, on the 1300 block of North Clybourn, according to police. San Hamel has been charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI, misdemeanor DUI, reckless driving, and failure to stay in the lane.

Several memorials and tributes have been held in honor of Cann, a Groupon employee widely described as a safe cycling advocate. Cann’s coworkers started a memorial Groupon that has raised over $40,000 for the Active Transportation Alliance’s Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign, which advocates for protected bike lanes.

Bob Kastigar, a longtime Chicago bike activist, launched a petition drive asking that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the county’s top prosecutor, send the case to court instead of making a plea bargain; Kastigar sent Alvarez a 432-page printout with 5,274 signatures, which arrived on June 11.

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Bobby Cann. Photo: Groupon

Steven Vance and I were unable to attend Friday’s arraignment but Active Trans Education Specialist Jason Jenkins emailed the following report:

A judge and a courtroom were assigned to the case, the defendant’s attorneys entered a plea of not guilty and the next court date of Sept 18th has been assigned. There were approximately 55 supporters there for Bobby’s immediate family, which had flown in for the appearance. It was standing room only and supporters spilled out into the hallway.

Jenkins suggested I contact the Cann family’s attorney Todd Smith for his perspective on what took place Friday. Smith is not formally involved with the criminal case, but he attended the arraignment to assist the family with understanding what was taking place. He will be involved in a forthcoming wrongful death lawsuit against San Hamel.

Smith says he was pleased to see such a strong turnout from supporters of the Cann family. “As I told the group afterwards, it was very impressive that there was a room full of people, mostly young folks but also others, who found the time get there,” he said. “It was clear that they feel very deeply about what happened, and that they wanted to let the justice system, including the prosecutors and the wrongdoer, know that there are people who care about the case and appear to be committed to returning.”

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Ryne San Hamel

While it may seem puzzling that San Hamel pleaded not guilty when there is such a strong case against him, Smith says he was not surprised. “Even under circumstances where the evidence might be quite compelling, in the initial stages a plea of not guilty is almost always entered, and then the defendant might change their plea down the road.”

The trial will not start immediately. At the arraignment, the judge set a “status date” for September 18, when he will determine if the defense and prosecution have completed the discovery phase — when each side shares its evidence with the other.

I asked Smith for the Cann family’s perspective on the case. “Obviously, they’re destroyed,” he said. “He was a young man who had everything in front of him, and he was a really good person. Bobby’s father died when he was young, so his mother raised him on her own for a while, and she worked hard to instill values in him. He seemed to have his values lined up well. Bobby’s values included physical fitness, energy conservation, safety for bicyclists and others, and he was trying to help out Groupon, which is still something of a startup.”

“To have lost him to a drunk, speeding driver who worked for a company called All You Can Drink [billed as an “online directory for nightlife and entertainment”] – what kind of message is that?” Smith added. “There’s a stark contrast between the apparent values of the people involved.”

“There’s a lot of culture out there that causes a lot of damage: driving under the influence, speeding, in a city where we’re supposed to be sharing the road with pedestrians and bicyclists,” Smith concluded. “I don’t think this kind of behavior is sufficiently challenged.”

  • Mad Donor

    I contributed to the Groupon campaign for Bobby Cann. I did that thinking this was a unique and novel way to support a worthy cause for safer biking facilities. Then I found out that the head of Groupon’s charitable division is married to a key staff person at Active Transportation Alliance. I think ATA and Groupon were very deceptive in not making this clear to donors. How can we know if our donations are going to create safer biking facilities or if they are merely to support the salary of a Groupon’s spouse?

  • BlueFairlane

    I think your concern is evidence of the tendency of Chicago people to worry about corruption in every place except where it matters. The Groupon advertises itself as benefitting ATA. You knew you were contributing to ATA when you signed up for it. How does it change anything to know that a Groupon person is married to an ATA person?

  • Katja

    Maybe the funds ARE going to someone’s salary.

    …someone who works to create safer biking facilities.

    ATA doesn’t make the facilities themselves, CDOT does. You knew you were contributing to an advocacy group. This means your money was going to advocacy, which is usually done by a person who gets paid some sort of wage or salary. What’s the problem?

  • DoItForBobby

    Also, is this really your takeaway from the situation?

  • FriendoftheCouple

    Well, as a friend of the couple, I can assure it doesn’t matter. Transparency isn’t needed in this case since the ATA employee is contracted 100% outside the bike lanes advocacy work and isn’t compensated with these funds. But yeah, ATA doesn’t BUILD these lanes (CDOT does), it engages the community to build support for them. And yeah, that includes paying salaries of people that work on the program.

  • If anyone has any specific questions about how the money will be used, an ATA rep told me they’re happy to provide info. Feel free to post ’em here and we’ll give ATA a heads-up.

  • Anonymous

    Not knowing any of the people involved, I’m sure the ATA/Groupon synergy between the marriage partners probably contributed to the idea for Groupon to create this “offer.” However, I can’t see how that can translate to any kind of assumption that the ATA-donated money is not being used for ATA’s work.

    That said, kudos (from an unaffiliated cyclist) for making the donation in Bobby’s memory! We are living in a very uncharitable society today so this is already an exceptional act.

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