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Boston Crash Controversey

Convict appeals denial of license as bike messenger

By Mac Daniel and John Ellement,

Boston Globe December 22, 2004

Jack McCambridge's run-ins with the law started early and often.

He stole a car when he was 17, has twice been convicted of manslaughter and armed robbery, and served time for kidnapping.

Now, at 68, he wants to be a bike messenger in Boston -- and he's trying to raise the issue of how government officials treat ex-convicts trying to get back on track.

But the Boston Police Department licensing bureau will not give him a permit to be a bicycle messenger due to his criminal past.

Yesterday, he lost an appeal hearing, though he and his supporters argued that the license was meant for traffic safety, not to punish people who have served time.

"If the Boston Police Department won't allow me at the age of 68 to earn a living, what are they going to do to some 22-year-old kid just out of prison?" said McCambridge, who rides his mountain bike while working with programs that help newly-released inmates and the homeless.

Beverly Ford, a police spokeswoman, said McCambridge's criminal history justifies the department's decision.

However, some officials are backing McCambridge's cause, including City Councilor Chuck Turner and Somerville state Representative Patricia Jehlen, who wrote to Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole on McCambridge's behalf.

Jehlen said she was unaware of the extent of McCambridge's criminal past, although she stands by the sentiment of her letter to O'Toole.

"I think that the licensing policies need to protect the public, but they also need to be careful not to exclude people from any method of getting a living," she said. "I wasn't writing a character reference for an individual."

McCambridge's first manslaughter conviction was in 1964, when Robert S. Charlebois reportedly used his last breath to tell police that McCambridge shot him in McCambridge's car after they had been drinking at a Roxbury bar and got into an argument. McCambridge said he shot in self-defense, but was sentenced to prison.

He got out in 1972, but was convicted that year for armed robbery. He escaped from prison in 1975 and was arrested in 1976 for robbing a bank in Peabody. Shortly afterward, he was one of six Walpole inmates who held a prison guard hostage.

He was released from prison in 1982. In 1993, McCambridge was again drinking with an acquaintance. Troopers spotted a van weaving wildly on the Southeast Expressway, but before they could stop it, the van crashed and rolled over.

At first, police thought Richard A. Doyle's death was an accident, but discovered at the hospital that he had been shot once in the head and once in the chest.

McCambridge again told police he shot in self-defense. But he was convicted of manslaughter again.

McCambridge, who was released from state prison Sept. 11, blames his past crimes on alcoholism, and says he has been sober for his entire time in prison of nearly 11 years.

"I had bought into the culture," he said. "I was brought up in reform school, graduated from there to prison, and was surrounded by a criminal cult."

McCambridge applied for a job at USA Couriers, a downtown bicycle messenger service that sent his name to the Boston police, which has been licensing bike couriers for the past nine years after a public outcry over traffic safety.

Kris L. Wiegman, president of USA Couriers in Boston, said McCambridge filled out an application in September but he did not mention his criminal record.

"Bike messengers have access to a lot of things that can be stolen," she said. "They also have access to secured buildings, so they have to be careful. I would doubt he'd be approved, and without the approval, no one's going to hire him. It's illegal."

Hannah Chotiner-Gardner, 22, who works with McCambridge at the American Friends Service Committee's prisoner reentry program in Cambridge, said the courier job is important for McCambridge "because that's all he has."

"That's the only chance he has at survival. He needs to feel like a whole person, that he makes a contribution. How giving a man a bicycle to deliver papers would somehow put other people at harm is beyond my comprehension."


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