Opinion: Ten days for a drunk driver who killed is a travesty

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Friends of bicycling enthusiast Robert “Bobby” Cann created a memorial where he was killed by a drunken driver in 2013 in Old Town. The driver, Ryne San Hamel, 32, was sentenced to 10 days in jail plus four years of probation. | Via Google Images

On May 29, 2013, Bobby Cann was biking home from his job at Groupon when he was struck and killed by a speeding, intoxicated driver.

The egregiousness of the crime and Bobby’s esteem in the Chicago cycling community led to extensive community outrage for which we, Bobby’s mother and girlfriend, will always be grateful. But a court’s outrageously deficient punishment of Bobby’s killer tells us that only the community can take the necessary steps to prevent drunk drivers from afflicting more mothers and girlfriends with the grief we now carry.


At his Jan. 26, 2017 appearance in court, the defendant, Ryne San Hamel, addressed the family. Unbelievably, he chose to describe in detail the final minutes of Bobby’s life. “I just hope that you can feel some type of remorse for me,” San Hamel said to us. He may well have nightmares about killing Bobby, but listening to him recite gruesome details that day was horrific.

While San Hamel’s audacious request for our sympathy went nowhere with us, it apparently did make an impression on the presiding judge. Judge William Hooks sentenced San Hamel to 10 days in jail and four years probation for killing Bobby while driving at nearly double the speed limit with nearly double the legal blood-alcohol level. San Hamel has already been released.

San Hamel had two previous alcohol-related arrests on his record, but he was able to escape responsibility for this one, the culmination of his recklessness, with the help of a celebrity defense attorney. Unfortunately, our case is not unique. In November 2015, Judge Nicholas Ford sentenced drunk driver Robert Vais, who killed cyclist Hector Avalos, to 100 days in prison and 2 years probation.

We can only conclude that the State of Illinois does not recognize drunk driving — particularly when its more affluent citizens are behind the wheel — as a true threat to the safety of our community.

If the state is not interested in correcting this behavior, we as a community must hold one another accountable. It may be uncomfortable to insist that a loved one, friend or even an acquaintance put down their car keys, but it can be done with kindness. When people drink and drive, they’re putting their own lives at risk. It is an act of love to insist that a friend who’s had too much to drink find another way home — a task that’s never been easier in the age of Lyft and Uber.

It is an act of love to catch yourself in that moment, before you do something you’ll forever regret.

These are the safeguards against drunk driving which Judge Hooks and the State of Illinois have seen fit to leave us. If they don’t feel adequate — and they are not — remember this when you elect officials and judges. Your vote determines who shapes, structures and protects our community — or who does not.

As Bobby’s family drove to the airport following the sentencing last month, we passed a well-lit sign on the highway. It read: “Drive drunk and go to jail. Your choice.” It’s pointless to threaten such punishment and then sentence so lightly in even the most extreme cases.

How seriously motorists take that message should be up to our elected judges and representatives. But for now, it’s up to us.

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