Lost Boy: The Death of Darcy Allan Sheppard | Toronto Star
Last Sunday, the TORONTO STAR published, on the newspaper's hard copy front page, this excerpt from staff feature writer Jennifer Wells new ebook - LOST BOY: The death of DARCY ALLAN SHEPPARD. This particular except did not appear in The Star's online edition.
1 Sep 2013 Toronto Star
JENNIFER WELLS FEATURE WRITER
New questions about death of cyclist in confrontation with Bryant
The death of Darcy Allan Sheppard is not quite the narrative that the courts and public have accepted, some friends and witnesses say
The death of bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard during an altercation on Bloor St. W. with Michael Bryant, the former Ontario attorney general, shocked the city. Criminal charges against Bryant were ultimately dismissed, but even now, four years later, questions about what happened on the evening of Aug. 31, 2009, continue to trouble Sheppard’s adoptive father and his friends in the courier community. They insist there was much more to Sheppard than his public portrayal as an out-of-control “berserker.” In her new ebook, Lost Boy: The Death of Darcy Allan Sheppard, Star feature writer Jennifer Wells explores the life of a charismatic, deeply flawed young man — from foster child to troubled teen to indigent adult and magnetic ladies’ man — whose life ended on a summer evening on Toronto’s most glittering retail strip. Day’s end, a Monday in July. Victoria Switzman is curled up in an armchair in her century row house near Trinity Bellwoods Park. She apologizes for her slightly shambolic home, which is undergoing renovation, evidenced by the packing boxes at one end of the living room and the absence of a kitchen. There are decorative touches of England, Switzman’s birthplace and residence until eight years ago. On one wall hangs a rug art piece, a hand-hooked Union Flag tribute to the Queen’s Jubilee. On a small table, a figurine depicts a stout handbag-toting Queen offering her trademark wrist-twisting wave. Switzman is bubbly, blond, fivefoot-nothing. She launches herself out of her chair, her ballet flats pacing out her recount of what she observed the night Darcy Allan Sheppard died. Who was where and when. Who did what. What was said.
On the evening of Aug. 31, 2009, Victoria and Steve Switzman headed out for one of those midmarriage let’s-try-to-get-in-shape walks, which they commenced contradictorily by first driving from their home near Summerhill to a metered parking spot near Bloor and Bedford Rd. “We walked down to Bloor St. . . . all the way through the university and then we came out onto Wellesley and Yonge. We went to Starbucks and then we walked up to Bloor St. and turned left.”
The couple walked along the north side of Bloor. Steve wanted to stop for a cigarette, which, Victoria points out, didn’t fit with her idea of a healthy walk. “Whilst he was lighting it,” she says, then restarting. “OK, I’m just going to demonstrate. Say that’s the road,” she says, pointing at the floor in front of her. “For some reason, I walked right up to the road here. So I’m standing right at the edge of the road.”
“The road” was Bloor St. W. between Bay and Avenue Rd. The backdrop was brightly lit — the retail glow from Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn. “I was standing there, right at the edge of the road there, and suddenly the car and the bike are in front of me.”
The light at the midblock crosswalk was red. In the middle of the westbound lane, at the light, was a cyclist on a bike, facing west. Half a car length behind the bike was a convertible — she was not sure of the make — with a male driver and woman passenger. “They were both stationary,” she says of the bike and the car. “When the lights turned green the person on the bike turned around and said to the driver of the car, ‘So you want me to move now, don’t you?’ ” She describes the cyclist’s tone as taunting. What Switzman saw, what she would tell police in her witness statement, was that “the car started banging the back of the bike.”
At one point, she says, the bike dropped between the cyclist’s legs. He righted it. The car’s driver was stone-faced. “He’s inching forward and he’s banging the back of the bike. . . . I started shouting at the car, ‘Stop it. Stop it. You’re being an idiot.’ ” She says she yelled at the driver that she was going to call the police.
She reached into her silver slouch bag and retrieved her husband’s phone, which she handed to him. It was with that phone, she says, that Steve Switzman called 911. “I was shouting ‘I’m calling the police’ because I wanted him (the driver of the car) to know this was not appropriate behaviour.”
Switzman says the one-sentence taunt — “So you want me to move now, don’t you?” — were the only words she heard from the courier. The driver of the car was silent. “The next thing I know he puts down his foot and he drives like the guy isn’t even there, so the cyclist . . . went over the top of the car, the hood of the car.”
She then describes the cyclist taking off his backpack, which she says he chucked in her direction. He ran toward the driver’s side of the car. “You know, I would have run after him,” she says of Sheppard’s sprinting reaction. “You don’t just run someone over and then drive off.”
The scene, she says, was like something out of the movies, a stunt chase. It was over in seconds.
The car headed southwest into the oncoming lane. Construction vans situated in the middle of Bloor prevented the Switzmans from seeing the moment when Sheppard was dislodged from the side of Michael Bryant’s car by the side cap jutting out from a curbside fire hydrant.
Victoria picked up the backpack. She says she struggled as she attempted to push the road bike toward the south pavement. “I could not push it across the road so I was kind of like carrying it,” she says. She next describes seeing Sheppard on the roadway, his legs partially on the south-side pavement. “I’m looking at him and then someone from behind gave me the mobile phone and said, ‘Can you talk to the police?’ She says the police asked her whether the man on the pavement was alive. There was an awful lot of blood. “I said the car has just driven off. The person in the car, I said they just drove off and left him here.” As Richard Peck said in his address to the court, “Eyewitnesses see different things.” In a telephone interview in mid-August, Peck, a B.C. criminal lawyer appointed as special prosecutor by the Attorney General of Ontario, discussed the reliability of the witness accounts in this case. “There were quite disparate accounts of what happened from eyewitnesses or alleged eyewitnesses,” he says. “There were at least a dozen and they were quite disparate in terms of what they saw, or purported to see, the speeds, the interactions, all those types of things.” No one witness, he pointed out in his address to the court, appeared to observe the events from start to finish. Mark Sandler, a Toronto lawyer appointed counsel for the Crown in this case, was also present on the call. “As is often the case when you’ve got a reconstruction of a traffic-related matter, the eyewitness accounts are wildly at variance with each other,” Sandler says. “One has to look at more objective evidence in determining precisely what happened.” The post-mortem examination of case number A 899-09 states that the 33-year-old cyclist had a weak radial pulse when initially attended by EMS and was pronounced dead at hospital. The toxicology findings report a presence of alcohol of 183 mg/100 mL of blood as well as the presence of cannabis. The external injuries to the six-foot-one, 203pound male included a17-centimetre C-shaped laceration on the left side of his torso, torn open when Sheppard hit the side cap of a fire hydrant on the south side of Bloor. The accident reconstruction report says Sheppard’s body rotated counterclockwise then landed on the pavement after striking a mailbox. The impact to the right side of his head caused fatal damage to the brain stem.
Michael Bryant continued west, then north on Avenue Rd. before parking at the Park Hyatt Hotel. Approximately three minutes later, he called 911 on his wife’s cellphone. He was booked that night, released, and charged the following day with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death. The full version of Jennifer Wells’ ebook Lost Boy: The Death of Darcy Allan Sheppard is available for $2.99 through starstore.ca and itunes.com. To subscribe to our $1/week ebook program, simply go to stardispatches.com.
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