General Crime

* Robert Ernest Cowart was Charged with Felony Hit-and-Run of a Retired Sonoma State University Proffessor in Penngrove

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A Rohnert Park man was charged in Sonoma County Superior Court this morning with felony hit-and-run of a retired Sonoma State University professor who was riding his bicycle in Penngrove Friday morning. The defendant, Robert Ernest Cowart, 68, entered the courtroom in a wheelchair and he walked slowly to stand with his attorney George Boisseau before Judge Robert LaForge. Cowart delayed entering a plea and will appear again in court Monday.

Well over a dozen friends and supporters of retired environmental studies professor Steve Norwick attended the arraignment, some of whom rode bicycles to the courthouse from downtown Santa Rosa. Norwick, 68, remains in a coma at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. He was struck by a Dodge pickup truck around 8:30 a.m. on Petaluma Hill Road near East Railroad Avenue. The California Highway Patrol said Cowart left the scene following the collision. He was arrested at home late Friday afternoon after two law enforcement officers who were aware of the accident noticed right front-end damage on Cowart’s Dodge pickup and a missing right side mirror. The CHP had collected parts of the suspected vehicle, including the right side mirror, at the collision scene.

Cowart told a CHP officer and a Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety sergeant, who live in his neighborhood, that he was involved in an accident with a bicyclist earlier Friday, the CHP said. Cowart said he left the scene because he didn’t believe the bicyclist was injured, the CHP said. He was then questioned at CHP headquarters and booked for felony hit-and-run in Sonoma County Jail where he posted $30,000 bail.

Deputy District Attorney Troye Shaffer asked LaForge to have Cowart taken into custody or raise his bail to $100,000. She said Cowart has three DUI arrests, two in 1989 and one in 2005.     LaForge did not remand Cowart and kept his bail at $30,000. He set a bail and plea entry hearing for Monday. Court records show Cowart pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI on Feb. 25, 2005 and was sentenced to three years’ probation and two days in jail. The two 1989 DUI cases are not in the court records. Shaffer was not available for further comment on them this morning.     Boisseau said Cowart recently suffered a stroke and has an aneurism in his neck. He said alcohol was not involved in the collision Friday and Cowart has not consumed any since 2005.

“There is no allegation of drinking here. This is a straight hit-and-run,” Boisseau said. LaForge ordered Cowart not to drive, drink alcohol or take non-prescription drugs. Cowart and his family did not comment after the arraignment. Norwick’s friend Creighton Bell said Norwick usually rode with two other SSU professors to the JavAmore Café in Penngrove and was heading there when he was hit by the truck. Bell said after Norwick didn’t show up Friday morning, he learned about the collision on a news website. Simone Wilson said Norwick is a very careful and conscientious rider. “He always wears a bright yellow vest and helmet,” Wilson said.

Nowick taught and lectured about water systems as part of the environmental studies and planning department at SSU since 1974 and retired about a month ago.

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