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Oakmont road-rage suspect pleads not guilty in cyclist attack

An Oakmont man accused of chasing a bicyclist onto a golf course and hitting him with his car pleaded not guilty Monday to attempted murder and other charges.

Harry Smith, 82, faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted of running down Toraj Soltani, 47, of Santa Rosa in the Aug. 15 incident that began on Pythian Road.

Smith was free on $1 million bail after spending Labor Day weekend behind bars.

He stood before Judge Kenneth Gnoss and denied six criminal counts, including hit and run and felony assault with a deadly weapon.

His lawyer said he reserved the right to change the plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. Attorney Charles Dresow said testing was under way to determine if Smith is suffering dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

"That assessment is ongoing," Dresow told the judge.

A preliminary hearing is Nov. 8.

After his appearance, Smith left the courthouse accompanied by a woman. He declined to comment.

Smith was first arrested Aug. 18 after police received a tip from another cyclist who said she had a similar run-in with him.

Soltani then picked the elderly man out of a police line-up, detectives said.

Smith posted bail but was re-arrested Aug. 31 when prosecutors added the attempted murder charge. He was freed Sept. 4, according to court records.

Soltani, the owner of a popular downtown Santa Rosa deli, said he was riding his bike on Pythian Road when a man came alongside and began yelling at him.

The driver swerved into him, but Soltani remained upright and attempted to get away from the car by riding his bike onto a cart path at Oakmont Golf Course. He said Smith came after him, hitting him with his car. Soltani was knocked from the bike and injured.

Friends who attended Monday's hearing said Soltani was recovering. He was back at work but had not regained use of his left hand, Brendan Kunckle said.

Smith also is charged with driving on a suspended license in connection with a previous road-rage incident on Highway 101.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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