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

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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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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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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.”

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