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10 Days for Bobby Cann’s Killer, a Repeat Drunk Driver, Is an Insult

Bobby Cann. Photo: Groupon

Yesterday Judge William H. Hooks sentenced Ryne San Hamel, the driver who fatally struck cyclist Bobby Cann in May 2013 while drunk and speeding, to a mere ten days in jail. This ruling proves once again the old adage that if you want to kill someone with few consequences, make sure they’re riding a bike.

Prosecutors had hoped for a sentence of three to 14 years, but as part of a plea deal between San Hamel, his high-profile defense attorney, and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, the motorist received the absurdly light jail sentence plus four years probation. He is also required to pay $25,000 to Cann’s family for funeral expenses. All in all, this represents a slap on the wrist for a man who had been arrested twice before on alcohol-related charges while behind the wheel, and made the decision to get behind the wheel drunk a third time, and cut short the life of a beloved young man in his prime.

Cann, 26, a native of New Hampshire, was working at Groupon at the time of his death. Family and friends remembered him as a talented, kindhearted man who loved to bicycle and was always encouraging other to ride.

A man rides by the ghost bike memorial to Bobby Cann on Clybourn last night. Photo: John Greenfield
A man rides by the ghost bike memorial to Bobby Cann on Clybourn last night. Photo: John Greenfield
A man rides by the ghost bike memorial to Bobby Cann on Clybourn last night. Photo: John Greenfield

San Hamel, now 32, grew up in a politically connected family in the affluent Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, according to an October 2013 article in the Chicago Reader. During his senior year of high school, he was arrest twice while behind the wheel for alcohol-related charges, but the charges were ultimately dismissed, the usual state of affairs for Illinois defendants who can afford a private lawyer.

In the first case, when San Hamel was observed drifting between lanes and had open containers of beer in his car, he was charged with underaged drinking. After the second incident, during which he had "glassy and bloodshot eyes," and "a strong smell of alcoholic beverage" on his breath, according to a responding officer, San Hamel was charged with misdemeanor DUI, but the charge was dropped as part of a plea deal.

Ten years later on May 29, 2013, at about 6:35 p.m., after celebrating a Cubs victory in Wrigleyville, San Hamel was driving his Mercedes Benz southeast on Clybourn when he fatally struck Cann, who was biking home from work, as he rode north on Larrabee. The cyclist went through the windshield and his leg was severed. He was pronounced dead a half hour after the crash.

Although prosecutors said San Hamel had a green light, he was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent – nearly twice the legal limit. Investigators also determined that he was going at least 50-60 mph in a 30 mph zone.

San Hamel was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI. He eventually hired attorney Sam Adam, a high-paid celebrity lawyer whose previous clients include ex-governor Rod Blagojevich and R&B star R. Kelly. The case dragged on for three years while Adam tried various strategies to get the charges dropped on technicalities.

During yesterday’s hearing the courtroom was packed with supporters. DNAinfo reported that Cann’s mother Maria addressed Judge Hooks before the sentencing. "It's not possible to accurately describe this kind of loss unless you've lived it,” she said. “I can be overcome by grief at any time for the smallest reasons."

As part of the plea deal, San Hamel pleaded guilty to the homicide and DUI charges in exchange for the shockingly lenient sentence. “We asked the judge for prison time because we felt that was appropriate for this case,” said Cook County state’s attorney spokeswoman Tandra Simonton. “The judge made his decision.” She declined to comment on whether the state’s attorney’s office believes the sentence to be just.

Ryne San Hamel. Photo: Chicago Police Department
Ryne San Hamel. Photo: Chicago Police Department
Ryne San Hamel. Photo: Chicago Police Department

As part of his rationale for giving San Hamel almost no penalty for taking Cann’s life, Hooks told the court, "If I have somebody that gets it and is remorseful — and even though there's a cry for retribution — I have to weigh what Ryne San Hamel needs." He added that while some DUI cases call for long prison stays if the perpetrator is a danger to society, "This is not one of those cases."

That logic makes no sense. San Hamel had twice been through the legal system for drinking and driving, and yet he chose to do it a third time. While I don’t doubt that he regrets taking a life, the fact that there are almost no consequences for his actions makes it more likely that he’ll make the same mistake a fourth time, perhaps causing another tragedy.

If nothing else, the trivial sentence is disrespectful to the loss that Cann’s loved ones are suffering. “Weigh Ryne's needs?” posted Donna Ellis on the Ride On Bobby Facebook page. “What about the Cann family’s and all of Bobby's friends’ needs? The judge wasted three years of the Cann family's life just to slap [San Hamel] on the wrist. This is injustice.”

“So, just to be clear, hacking celebrities' phones equals nine months in prison,” commented a reader on Chicagoist. Getting drunk, still deciding to drive, and ending a person's life equals ten days?”

You can express your opinion about Hooks' sentencing decision on his page on the Robing Room, a website for rating judges. We'll keep you posted on any further actions you can take in support of the Cann family in the future.

The Bobby Cann case calls to mind the light sentence given to the drunk driver who fatally struck former Marine and aspiring chef Hector Avalos, 28, as he was biking in Chicago's Douglas Park neighborhood on December 6, 2013. Like San Hamel, the driver, Stroger Hospital administrator Robert Vais, now 57, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15. He was sentenced to 100 days in state prison and two years probation.

At least in Vais’ case, the defendant had a clean driving record and 150 people wrote letters vouching for his character as a family man who contributed to his community by volunteering as a coach. Again, San Hamel was twice arrested for driving drunk before he killed Cann, and at the time of the crash he was working for a bar specials website called All You Can Drink. Why did he deserve leniency?

The Cann family has a wrongful death lawsuit pending against San Hamel, so perhaps that will result in additional compensation, but that would provide little solace for their loss. Hopefully this court decision, unjust as it is, will eventually bring them some sense of closure, but I fear it has also caused them additional pain.

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