A cyclist remains in critical condition after being struck by a hit-and-run driver in Sonoma County.
Hit-and-run accident: A 68-year-old driver who fled the scene after he hit a cyclist in Penngrove late last week appeared in Sonoma County Superior Court Wednesday to postpone his arraignment. The victim remains hospitalized in critical condition.
• A pickup truck swerved off the roadway, hit a cyclist on the paved shoulder, and didn’t stop or even slow down.
• The cyclist was critically injured and remains in a coma.
• The hit-and-run driver was later arrested on felony hit-and-run charges.
The bicycle crash occurred last Friday, shortly after 8:30 a.m., according to a report in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.
California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Hill said that 68-year-old Steve Norwick, a retired Sonoma State University environmental studies professor, was riding his bicycle southbound on the paved right shoulder of Petaluma Hill Road when he was struck from behind near East Railroad Avenue.
Based on physical evidence and witnesses’ statements, CHP investigators believe that 68-year-old Robert Cowart of Rohnert Park was driving his Dodge Ram pickup truck when he drifted onto the shoulder, hit Norwick, and kept driving without stopping.
Norwick was riding with his friend Rolfe Erickson, a retired geology professor. Erickson was about 10 feet ahead of Norwick when the accident happened. He said the truck never even slowed down, and had to veer back onto the roadway to avoid hitting him as well.
The impact knocked Norwick down an embankment and into a drainage ditch. He was unresponsive when firefighters arrived, according to Rancho Adobe Fire Captain Pete Albini.
Norwick suffered life-threatening catastrophic injuries to his head, spine, and kidneys, CHP officer Kerri Post told ABC News. He remains in a coma at the Intensive Care Unit at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
The collision left telltale damage to the truck, according to the Press-Democrat:
The impact sheared off the truck’s right side mirror and knocked out its front right headlight, leaving evidence at the scene that helped investigators piece together a description of the suspect’s vehicle.
CHP investigators said there was absolutely no way that the driver would not be aware that he hit someone, but Cowart did not come forward. Later that day, two off-duty law enforcement officers who live in Cowart’s neighborhood — CHP Officer Robert Powers and Rohnert Park Public Safety Sgt. Jeff Nicks –saw him drive up to his home in the damaged truck.
Nicks said Cowart “spoke matter of factly” about having hit a cyclist on the way to work but he said the cyclist was not hurt. He said the cyclist had been riding in the middle of the road when he hit him. He also said he stopped to check on the cyclist and thought he was OK.
The officers, who already were familiar with some of the details of the accident, initiated an arrest on charges of felony hit-and-run. Later Cowart changed his story and admitted that “he never stopped,” because he was late for work, Hill said. He was booked into jail and released on $30,000 bail.
When Cowart appeared in court Wednesday, he was in a wheelchair and appeared frail and unsteady, according to updated reports in the Press-Democrat, the Community Voice, and CBS News. His attorney said he had recently had a stroke and an aneurysm that may be impairing blood flow in his brain.
Deputy District Attorney Troye Shaffer said Cowart had three prior DUI arrests — two in 1989 and one in 2005 — and asked the judge to raise bail to $100,000. The arraignment will resume on Monday.
Regardless of what happens in Cowart’s criminal trial, the victim and his family will retain the legal right to be compensated for his injuries.
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