Numerous police officers conducted a manhunt Sunday afternoon in east Santa Rosa for a suspected hit-and-run driver who struck and injured a bicyclist on Fourth Street just east of Farmers Lane.

But the man ran into the brushy, steep residential neighborhood behind the Flamingo Hotel and eluded officers.

"There were lots of places for him to hide," Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Ron Nelson.

The bicyclist, Mark Howell, 50, of Santa Rosa was taken by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with moderate to minor injuries, Nelson said.

The suspect apparently took his eyes off the road to look at a nearby Sonoma County Sheriff's Department patrol car and then crashed into the bicyclist at about 12:15 p.m., Nelson said.

The deputy told investigators he saw the driver look at him and that's when he struck the bicyclist at a slow speed.

The deputy stopped to help Howell while the driver got out of his olive green Ford Windstar van and ran into the nearby neighborhood, Nelson said.

About 15 police officers and deputies searched the hillside, which is dotted with many homes and crisscrossed by narrow, winding roads. The Sheriff's Department helicopter and one of its police dogs joined the manhunt, Nelson said.

The officers halted the search after about 90 minutes, Nelson said.

Late Sunday, police still were trying to identify the driver.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or