Court Transcript, Crash Videos Show Why Bobby Cann Sentence Was Unjust

Pins distributed to Cann family supporters at the sentencing hearing. Photo: Bart Crouch
Pins distributed to Cann family supporters at the sentencing hearing. Photo: Bart Crouch

[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.

Judge William H. Hooks
Judge William H. Hooks

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.


Top: Video shows San Hamel driving his Mercedes into oncoming traffic with the injured Cann on the roof. Bottom: Immediately after San Hamel crashes into another car, Cann lies in the street near the curb.
Top: Video shows San Hamel driving his Mercedes into oncoming traffic with the injured Cann on the roof. Bottom: Immediately after San Hamel crashes into another car, Cann lies in the street near the curb.

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.

Read the rest of the article on the Reader’s website.


  • R.A. Stewart

    This is personal with me.

    Not because I knew Bobby Cann; I didn’t. Not because I ride; I don’t any more, I’m just another old geezer who drives to a job in the transitless suburbs and can’t seem to find time among the weekend’s obligations to hop on the almost-as-ancient-as-I-am Raleigh.

    No, it’s personal to me because I have five adult children, four of them able-bodied. And all of those four, when they have lived here in Chicago (one’s raising her kids out of state, one is in college), have been regular riders. And most of them have been injured and had their bikes damaged by Chicago’s clueless, incompetent, irresponsible drivers.

    And William Hooks has publicly and officially decreed that it is open season on these young people, four of the people I love most in the world, as soon as they get on a bike. He has, from the bench, declared their lives to be worth less than a graffiti-defaced wall or a stolen carton of cigarettes. He has told every entitled frat boy from Wrigleyville to Naperville that they can get as hammered as they feel like, get behind the wheel of their Mercedes sedan or Lexus SUV, race at twice the speed limit down crowded city streets, and run my children down like dogs, and as long as they can hire a high-priced attorney, it’s just fine in the eyes of the law.

    If I am alive in 2022, if my efforts can count for anything, William Hooks will lose his seat on the bench. I can hardly remember my own name these days, but by God I will remember this. And I hope everyone who rides in this city, or cares about someone who rides, remembers too.

  • Anna

    Bobby Cann could have been you, or me.

    What an unspeakable horror.

    Followed by a complete miscarriage of justice.

    Big pharma should study how it is that Hamel, Adam and Judge Hooks can sleep at night.

  • Anne A

    For the last few elections, I’ve made a point to read bar association recommendations on judges and vote NO for those who are considered unqualified or not recommended. More people should take the time to do this. Good judges should get retention votes.

    I have a comment from a CPD officer who has testified in many DUI cases before the judge. His comment: “Judge Hooks is a waste of oxygen. He doesn’t take cases like Bobby Cann’s death and other DUI cases that have a significant impact on people’s lives seriously enough. He often seems to have more sympathy for the drunk driver than for the victim.” That is one officer’s opinion. Your mileage may vary.

    Another comment from the same officer. “Thorough ongoing professional training for CPD officers is spotty. Too few get special training in handling DUI incidents. There are on-scene tests that are very effective at assessing level of intoxication for even ‘career drunks’, who can fool officers who aren’t experienced at handling DUIs. These tests require special training, which most officers don’t get. Lack of this training can result in inept handling of a DUI incident.”

    This officer’s opinion is that responding officers at the scene and the state’s attorney seriously compromised the case. He said that procedural errors were made by the responding officers on what should have been a slam dunk case against San Hamel.

    In this type of incident and many others, investing in more thorough training for CPD officers (as well as rooting out the old school culture of favoritism that hides discipline problems until they are later exposed in problematic incidents like the Laquan McDonald shooting) is an essential step to getting the Cook County justice system closer to what it should be – a system that dispenses fair and equal justice, not unfairly punishing regular people and letting those with money and connections slide.

    The training issue was exposed in the recent FBI report about CPD. The discipline and favoritism aspect did NOT get exposure there. That aspect of CPD’s problems is a cancer at the heart of the system.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Thank you, John, for reporting a number of facts that were previously not clear about this crash. I have a question about the other two cars involved in this crash: namely, what type / size were: 1) the car waiting in the right-turn lane (southeast-bound on Clybourn, to turn onto southbound Larrabee), and 2) the car that Mr. Hamel illegally passed — while passing though the Clybourn-Larrabee intersection — when he hit Bobby Cann? Were either of these cars SUVs or difficult to see over/around vehicles? As a cyclist in Chicago, I find the abundance/prevalence of large passenger vehicles an added “challenge” — or pain in the saddle — since they so often and severely block the view of cyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers (in smaller cars).

  • neroden

    I think you’ve nailed the problems. A “favoritism” (gang) culture at the CPD protects, hides, and covers up the bad apples (who proceed to spread rot to the whole CPD, even though there are many upstanding and fine officers); corrupt and lazy judges rule in favor of the well-connected and nobody pays attention to the elections; the DAs are just as corrupt as the CPD and the elections are ignored just as much as the judicial elections.

    Not at all sure how to fix this.