A Santa Rosa real estate agent who killed a pedestrian in a hit-and-run crash near Spring Lake was sentenced Wednesday to six months in jail.
Steven Harry Heath, 60, faced a maximum of three years in prison for the Feb. 27 accident that killed George Black, 64, of Pacifica, as he walked along Montgomery Drive.
Heath ran into him and didn't stop, claiming he didn't know he had hit anyone. He contacted a lawyer the next day when he read about the death in the newspaper.
He turned himself in March 1 and pleaded no contest in April to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash.
On Wednesday, he apologized to Black's ex-wife, Susan Kitchell, who appeared in court to read statements from Black's 16-year-old son, Black's brother and herself.
Black, described by friends as a former political science professor, had been visiting Santa Rosa at the time of the crash.
"I'm going to have to live with this the rest of my life, as are you," said Heath, his voice cracking with emotion.
Probation Department officials recommended a one-year jail sentence and Heath's lawyer asked for 90 days with electronic home confinement. Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite gave him six months, citing his lack of a criminal record, his early plea and his expression of remorse.
"There has to be some punishment aspect to this," Thistlethwaite said.
Prosecutor Bob Waner said he wasn't seeking prison because the victim's family didn't ask for it.
But he argued for at least a year in jail. Waner said it was impossible to believe Heath didn't know he hit someone, given witness accounts of his "full-throttle escape" in his Mercedes sedan to his nearby home, where he remained in "hermit mode" for nearly two days.
Also, he questioned how Heath wouldn't notice the sound of the impact or damage to his windshield pillar.
The prosecutor suggested Heath was hiding something or otherwise trying to protect himself.
"It seems that some people, in this case Mr. Heath, think getting away is the most important thing," Waner said.
Heath's lawyer, Steve Gallenson, said Heath was aware he hit something but didn't think it was a person. He should have stopped to check it out but he didn't, Gallenson said.
When he realized later what had happened, he called a lawyer, who arranged for Heath to turn himself in, Gallenson said.
If Heath had been trying to avoid responsibility, he could have fled the area, repaired the damage to his car and kept the matter to himself, the lawyer said.
"He could have tried to do a number of things he didn't do," Gallenson said.
He asked for leniency, in part because Heath was undergoing radiation therapy for an undisclosed medical condition.
However, Thistlethwaite denied the request for home confinement and ordered Heath to begin his six-month sentence immediately. He was handcuffed in court and led away by deputies.
Under state sentencing laws, he could be out in three months.
Heath will also be required to pay restitution to Black's family. In a letter read by Susan Kitchell, Black's son told the judge he was devastated by the loss, which has left him physically and emotionally exhausted.
"I am left with a hole in my heart that not one single person could fill," said the son in the letter.