Ryne San Hamel, the motorist who killed cyclist Bobby Cann in a May 2013 crash while driving roughly twice the speed limit with a blood-alcohol level also about double the legal limit, was sentenced at a hearing in late January. After pleading guilty to reckless homicide and aggravated DUI but before being sentenced, San Hamel addressed Cann’s family to provide a tearful—and graphic—account of trying to save the cyclist’s life.
The driver’s speech may have influenced Cook County circuit court judge William H. Hook’s final sentencing decision. While the state-mandated minimum penalty for aggravated DUI resulting in a death is three to 14 years in prison, Hooks sentenced San Hamel to a mere ten days in jail, plus four years probation and $25,000 in restitution.
But bystanders who aided Cann in the aftermath of the crash now say that San Hamel exaggerated his own efforts, and allege that several statements he made in court were false.
San Hamel struck Cann at Clybourn and Larrabee at an estimated 60 mph; the impact severed Cann’s leg and threw him onto the car’s roof. When San Hamel swerved and then struck an oncoming car, the injured cyclist fell to the street.
Security video from a nearby restaurant shows that after coming to a stop in front of Yojimbo’s Garage bike shop, San Hamel got out of his car and walked over to Cann. He was followed immediately by shop owner Marcus Moore, and soon afterward by Northwestern Memorial Hospital nurse Julie Rolf, who’d been driving southeast on Clybourn.
“I just wanted to let you know that I did everything I could . . . to help him,” San Hamel said at the hearing, according to court records. “Cupping blood out of his mouth while the nurse did the tourniquet on his leg, and the last thing I did with assisting him was holding his hand and putting my other arm on his shoulder and just praying for him to come back.”
San Hamel said that, as he prayed, Cann opened his eyes and looked at him, and then laid his head down to the side.
“At that moment when his eyes opened . . . he was going somewhere else and going to a better place,” San Hamel told Cann’s family. “I saw it in his eyes.”
Although Cann’s mother, Maria, later described San Hamel’s speech as “offensive,” his remarks seemed to make a good impression on Hooks. Just before announcing the sentence, the judge referred to San Hamel as a “victim of this situation” and told the courtroom that he had factored the driver’s “remorse” into his sentencing decision.
There’s just one problem: both Moore and Rolf say San Hamel’s account of his actions wasn’t true.
—Crash witness Marcus Moore
After reading my analysis of Hooks’s judgment, Moore, a longtime acquaintance, contacted me to tell me that it was he, not San Hamel, who scooped blood out of Cann’s mouth, and that there were other falsehoods in his story.
Cann had a weak pulse but wasn’t breathing, Moore said. After securing the tourniquet, Rolf began chest compressions while Moore focused on clearing blood out of his mouth.
“I used my right forefinger and middle finger to scoop out the blood,” he says. “It was pretty messy.”
Moore used his left hand to support Cann’s head, in an effort to his keep his air passage open. He insists that the driver’s mention of cradling the cyclist’s shoulder was false because while San Hamel was in the vicinity, he wasn’t actively involved in trying to resuscitate Cann.
And San Hamel’s story of Cann opening his eyes and looking at him? Moore says that’s “either a fabrication or his imagination,” since the cyclist’s eyes were open the whole time, and he made no movements. “He was unconscious at best,” Moore says.
Rolf confirmed Moore’s account of what happened, adding that for much of the time they tended to Cann, San Hamel was standing or pacing behind Moore in a panicked state. She’s certain San Hamel never held the victim’s hand.
The security video is grainy, and the figures around Cann appear small, but Rolf can be seen performing chest compressions while Moore is positioned to Cann’s right. At times San Hamel can be seen immediately to the nurse’s left.
“To be evenhanded here, maybe in his mind [San Hamel] thinks he was doing more than he actually did,” Moore concedes. But he’s inclined to believe that the driver intentionally lied in court. “It makes me sick to my stomach to think that he would pull off that kind of act in front of the family of the deceased.”
“I don’t know if San Hamel blacked out or what,” Rolf says, “but [his account] wasn’t accurate.”
San Hamel and his defense attorney, Sam Adam Jr., didn’t return messages requesting a response to these statements. Multiple calls to Hooks went unanswered. And a spokesperson for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which prosecuted San Hamel, didn’t return messages.
But Cann’s girlfriend, Catherine Bullard, says that San Hamel’s apparent falsehoods represent yet another way the driver has made the cyclist’s family suffer.
“It is incredible how many iterations of cruelty San Hamel has shown Bobby’s loved ones,” Bullard said. “I wish there was some way to hold him accountable for the lies he told.”
Cann’s family intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Their attorney, Todd Smith, of the firm Power Rogers & Smith, says it would be “premature” to comment on what effect, if any, the crash witnesses’ statements might have on the civil case. Although San Hamel wasn’t under oath when he made his statement, “it’s certainly troubling if he looked at the family in court, as he did, and wasn’t telling the truth,” Smith says.
If Moore’s and Rolf’s assertions are true, hopefully they can be used to bring some measure of justice to Cann’s loved ones. For a drunk, speeding driver to kill a man, then lie to his family about trying to save his life, would be a truly heartless way to add insult to make a tragic case all the more heartbreaking. v
John Greenfield edits the transportation news website Streetsblog Chicago.