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Oakmont road-rage suspect delays plea in first court appearance

  • Toraj Soltani's in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on Friday evening, August 17, 2012. Soltani suffered various injuries after being run down by a motorist while riding his bike in Oakmont. (Christopher Chung / PD)

A lawyer for an 81-year-old Santa Rosa man charged with running down a bicyclist with his car raised the issue of mental competence Tuesday at the man's first court appearance.

Harry E. Smith is charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and hit and run in the alleged road rage incident Thursday that injured cyclist Toraj Soltani, 47, of Santa Rosa.

Wearing a blue jail uniform, the white-haired Smith shuffled before Judge Robert LaForge, who asked twice if Smith could hear him.

Smith said he could but postponed entering a plea at the direction of his lawyer, who said he needed more time to consider any evidence against him.

"I have some serious concerns about Mr. Smith's competence," his attorney, Charles Dresow, told the judge.

However, Dresow declined an offer to have the court's psychologist evaluate Smith. He said outside court that Smith has strong indications of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

"It's an issue that will have to be evaluated," Dresow said after the hearing.

Smith was ordered to return to court Aug. 31 to enter a plea.

He was arrested Saturday after a tip from another cyclist who said she had a similar run-in with him last fall.

In court Tuesday, LaForge said Smith was a suspect in two known road rage incidents in the past year and was guilty of reckless driving with alcohol in 2006.

LaForge denied a reduction in his $100,000 bail at the urging of prosecutors, who consider him a danger.

"The people are very, very concerned that if he gets behind the wheel of a car he could seriously hurt someone else," prosecutor Barbara Nanney said.

Police said the incident began Thursday afternoon as Soltani was riding on Pythian Road in the Oakmont senior community.

Soltani said he took his hands off the handlebars to rest when a man in a car yelled at him, swerved and bumped into him.

He said he took evasive action, riding onto a sidewalk, making a U-turn and turning onto an Oakmont Golf Course cart path.

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