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Judge William Hooks, who gave Bobby Cann’s killer only 10 days in jail, is up for reelection

The ghost bike for Bobby Cann next to one of the protected bike lanes that was built on Clybourn Avenue in the wake of his killing. Photo: John Greenfield

This post is adapted from a previous Chicago Reader article.

On Tuesday, November 8, voters will decide whether to retain Judge William H. Hooks, the judge who gave the speeding, intoxicated driver who killed Groupon employee Bobby Cann on his bike in 2013 a mere 10-day jail sentence.

In the early evening of May 29, 2013, after partying in Wrigleyville, Ryne San Hamel, 28 at the time, was driving his Mercedes downtown on Clybourn Avenue at about 60 mph, twice the speed limit, when he slammed into Cann, 26, who was riding north on Larrabee Avenue on his way home from work. 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.

After San Hamel pleaded guilty to all charges, including aggravated DUI causing death, at a January 2017 hearing, Hooks gave him the 10-day sentence, plus four years of probation and $25,000 in restitution to cover Cann's funeral expenses. That was despite the fact 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.” In addition, San Hamel had on two different occasions previously been arrested for alcohol-related offences while behind the wheel.

Bobby Cann.
Bobby Cann.
Bobby Cann.

Then, the defense and prosecution presented arguments in regard to sentencing.

Adam noted that more than 100 letters had been submitted in support of San Hamel, and that, since the crash, the defendant had been volunteering as a coach in a youth baseball league, undergone evaluation for drugs and alcohol, and earned two associate’s degrees.

“The one thing that’s for sure here is that Mr. San Hamel is accepting responsibility, your honor, and is extremely remorseful,” Adam said. “A penitentiary sentence would not serve society.”

Assistant Cook County state’s attorney Jennifer Coleman made the case for prison time, but Hooks seemed largely unconvinced by her arguments. When she brought up the two previous alcohol-related arrests behind the wheel, both in 2003, the judge argued that since that since one of the charges, for misdemeanor DUI, had been dropped as part of a plea deal, it wasn’t relevant to San Hamel’s current case.

“I cannot . . . punish him [for] something that he can’t confront,” Hooks said.

Coleman asserted that that the now-defunct website that San Hamel was working for at the time of the crash, allyoucandrink.com, encouraged binge drinking.

Ryne San Hamel's arrest photo.
Ryne San Hamel's arrest photo.

Finally, San Hamel addressed Cann’s loved ones. Weeping, he described trying to help his victim after the crash, kneeling before the dying man and “cupping blood out of his mouth,” holding his hand and cradling his shoulder.

“I just hope that you can feel some type of remorse [from] me, or forgiveness in your heart,” he concluded. “I wish I could change everything that happened, but I can’t.”

Before announcing the sentence, Hooks explained his rationale to the courtroom. He acknowledged that Cann was an “extraordinary person” but argued that San Hamel was “another driven person. . . . Both of these young men had a drive for life that [was] so vital, so strong . . . of such great potential. But, after that collision, only one could walk away.”

The judge added that he factored San Hamel’s “remorse” about the killing into his sentencing decision. He noted that in the past he had sentenced other defendants to prison terms as long as 45 years because they were dangers to society. (Indeed, in 2015, Hooks sentenced Andrew L. Jones to three years prison after Jones pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI and reckless homicide in the 2013 death of his girlfriend Chantelle Jones.)

“If I have someone who gets it, and is remorseful, and understands the seriousness of the matter before the court,” Hooks said, “I really got to weigh whether or not that prison sentence is what he needs.”

Adam and Hooks didn’t respond to my interview requests at the time; San Hamel was serving his ten-day sentence while I researched and wrote about Hooks' decision and was not available for comment.

But for their part, Cann’s friends and family, as well as cycling advocated, said the sentence was unjust.

Former Active Transportation Alliance crash-victim advocate Jason Jenkins, who attended the hearing, told me at the time he thought San Hamel’s remarks “border[ed] on repulsive.”

“It reminded me of the Brock Turner rape case, in which the perpetrator presented himself as the injured party who bore no responsibility for the crime,” Jenkins said. “It reeked of willful obliviousness and privilege.”

Judge Hooks
Judge Hooks
Judge Hooks

Jenkins and Catherine Bullard both said at the time that Hooks didn’t seem to take the scientific evidence of San Hamel’s intoxication seriously. Instead, the judge said during an earlier hearing that, taking into account the defendant’s “gait” and “arm swing” in video footage, he didn’t appear drunk, so he wasn’t convinced that San Hamel was impaired.

Hooks also painted a picture of two equally bright, productive, potential-filled men who happened to meet under tragic circumstances.

“But San Hamel and Cann couldn’t have been more different,” Jenkins said. “Bobby was someone who lost his father to cancer young, was raised along with his three siblings by a single mom, . . . biked halfway across the country, taught himself to write software code, and volunteered helping recently released convicts to reintegrate into society, and who inspired the people he met with his boundless enthusiasm and lust for life. Ryne San Hamel was a child of wealth and privilege who got a couple of associate’s degrees and went in on an online business called All You Can Drink.”

Bullard said at the time that a sentence of three years in prison – but better yet eight to ten – would have been the appropriate penalty. “The sentence, as it is, shows us that even if you get drunk and get behind the wheel – already a crime – and then kill someone—a yet more egregious crime—it’ll still be OK,” she said.

Bullard and Jenkins’s logic mades sense. Hooks basically ignored the plentiful evidence as to why San Hamel needed a longer sentence, and the public was less safe because of his decision.

I wrote at the time of the sentence, "Hopefully voters will remember this case [about] six years from now in 2022, when William H. Hooks will again be up for reelection." That time is now.

Read more about Hooks' sentencing decision here.

Read more about Cann's life here.

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