[The Chicago Reader publishes a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]
The family and friends of fallen cyclist Bobby Cann were outraged late last month when Cook County circuit court judge William H. Hooks sentenced motorist Ryne San Hamel, who killed Cann while speeding and drunk, to just ten days in jail.
In the early evening of May 29, 2013, after partying in Wrigleyville, San Hamel was driving his Mercedes downtown on Clybourn at about 60 mph, twice the speed limit, when he slammed into Cann, 26, who was biking north on Larrabee on his way home from his job at Groupon. The impact severed the cyclist’s left leg, and he died soon afterwards. When San Hamel’s blood was drawn more than three hours later, he was still found to have a blood alcohol level of .15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit.
It was shocking that Hooks chose to give San Hamel this minimal sentence (plus four years of probation and $25,000 in restitution to cover Cann’s funeral expenses). After all, the minimum sentence in Illinois for aggravated DUI causing death is three to 14 years in prison, except for in cases where the court finds “extraordinary circumstances.” Moreover, San Hamel, now 32, had on two different occasions previously been arrested for alcohol-related offenses while behind the wheel.
In an effort to understand what might have motivated the judge’s ruling, last week I viewed security-camera footage of the crash and analyzed the transcript of the January 26 sentencing hearing. (To my knowledge, I’m the only reporter who has seen these materials.) Having done so, I still think Hooks made a terrible decision.
The video footage shows the moment when the two young men’s paths tragically crossed, around 6:35 PM. Cann appears as a small figure on his bicycle. Heading north on Larrabee, he slowly approaches Clybourn, then proceeds north through the intersection, through a red light.
As he enters the intersection, a southeast-bound driver is stopped in the turn lane northwest of the intersection, waiting to turn north onto Larrabee. We see a second car approaching from the northwest, and then a third car, San Hamel’s silver Mercedes, which passes the second car on the right at a high rate of speed. (A crime-scene reenactment expert later estimated that San Hamel was doing between 58 and 64 mph.)
The crash takes place in the center of the intersection. The video shows San Hamel slamming his Mercedes into the left side of Cann’s body. His bicycle flies off to the west side of the street, tumbling over a parked car, while Cann rolls over the hood and windshield of the Mercedes and is carried off on the roof. The front right side of the car is crushed and the windshield is shattered. San Hamel swerves left into oncoming traffic.
San Hamel then swerves sharply again, this time to the right, in an effort to avoid an oncoming black Infiniti. As he does, Cann’s limp body is thrown from the roof to the street, coming to rest at the east curb. Then, the front left side of San Hamel’s car collides with the front left side of the Infiniti.
About a minute later, San Hamel gets out of his badly damaged Mercedes, walks over to Cann and kneels by his body. Then a nurse arrives on the scene and applies a tourniquet to the cyclist’s leg. Roughly four minutes after the crash, Chicago Fire Department paramedics show up and rush Cann to Northwestern Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:09 PM.
In October 2014 San Hamel hired high-profile defense attorney Sam Adam Jr., who had previously defended R. Kelly and Rod Blagojevic. Adam tried various strategies to get the charges dropped, such as claiming that San Hamel’s blood-alcohol testing had been mishandled. It wasn’t until mid-December of last year, about a month after Hooks was retained as judge during the November election, that Adam announced the defense’s intention to seek a plea deal.