A series of stunning revelations unfolded Wednesday about the medical condition and driving record of a Rohnert Park man charged with mowing down a bicyclist and driving away from the scene, an incident that has galvanized Sonoma County's bicycling community.
Robert Cowart, 68, made his first court appearance Wednesday in the felony hit-and-run case, shambling down the aisle steered by one of several lawyers. He appeared unsteady and unsure as the judge and attorneys discussed his case.
Among the unexpected disclosures were three prior drunken driving convictions, two in 1989 and one in 2005, as well as a recent stroke and an aneurysm that may be impairing blood flow in his brain, defense attorney George Boisseau said.
Threatened with higher bail, Cowart's attorney said his client needs to remain out of custody so he can address his medical issues. It was unclear when the stroke occurred. He said Cowart no longer drinks.
Cowart left court in a wheelchair, pushed by a man who first placed Cowart's hands, one by one, in his lap. He was surrounded by attorneys and family members who have steadfastly declined to comment on the case or on his health.
Cowart's infirmity was a shock to the dozens of local cyclists and friends who converged on the courthouse in support of victim Steve Norwick, a retired Sonoma State University environmental studies professor.
“I'm still digesting,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and a longtime friend of Norwick's. “It's unbelievably horrible. It's tragic on both sides.”
“There's clearly more going on than we can understand,” said Sandra Lupien, the coalition's outreach director, “and it's also clear that he probably shouldn't have been driving. It's very sad.”
It remains unclear if Norwick will recover from his injuries. The 68-year-old was struck from behind on Friday as he rode south on Petaluma Hill Road to meet with friends for breakfast.