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A Boyes Hot Springs man pleaded not guilty this afternoon to charges in connection with the crosswalk death of a 93-year-old Sonoma man on Wednesday. Joe Kwai Lee, 80, is charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, hit-and-run causing great bodily injury or death and driving on a suspended license. He is being held in the Sonoma County jail. Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert LaForge set Lee’s bail at $75,000.
Lee’s family has $50,000 and is trying to scrape together the rest, one of Lee’s sons, Rene Lee, of Concord, said. Lee’s PT Cruiser struck 93-year-old Alvin Hesse in a marked crosswalk at Fifth Street West and Studley Street in Sonoma around 3:50 p.m. Wednesday, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said. Hesse, who was in a three-wheel electric scooter, died at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.
Lee’s vehicle was found traveling east on Napa Road near Burndale Road, Sonoma Police Chief Brett Sackett said. The car had front-end damage consistent with the accident, Sackett said. Lee denied being in the accident but later recalled running over something near the crosswalk on Fifth Street West, Sackett said. “The driver did not know what he hit, but assumed it was debris in the road,” Sackett said.
Outside the courtroom this afternoon, Rene Lee said the road at the accident scene is bumpy and in bad condition and his father told him, “He didn’t know anything about hitting someone.” “It’s sad, but it’s a combination of things. There should be stoplights not just flashing (crosswalk) lights. It needs stop signs,” Lee said. The area has “lots of close calls.
It’s a dangerous intersection,” Rene Lee said. Lee said his father is a good driver and has been driving for 30 years. The judge ordered Lee not to drive or possess any vehicles if posts bail. Rene Lee said his father owns a 1932 Ford, 1947 MG and a Subaru BRAT, a car that was made between the late 1970s and early 1990s. All three cars are inoperable and are in carports at his father’s apartment, Lee said.
Lee’s attorney, Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, said law enforcement impounded Lee’s PT Cruiser as evidence, and one of Lee’s sons took away an older-model Mazda from Lee. Deputy District Attorney Scott Jamar told LaForge he wants Lee, who lives alone, to reside with a responsible family member if he posts bail. He said Lee showed a lack of good judgment.
“He drove when he was advised it was not safe to,” Jamar said. “My big concern is for the public at large. His license was suspended and he said he knew it but still chose to drive,” Jamar said. Lee is scheduled to appear in court again Nov. 26 for a settlement conference and a review of his bail conditions regarding his housing.
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