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.
But Soltani said Smith continued to pursue him, driving onto the golf course and hitting him from behind. Soltani suffered a fractured wrist that required surgery and scrapes and bruises on his elbows, leg and buttocks.
A friend who attended Tuesday's hearing said Soltani was resting at home.
Smith, described by his lawyer as a retired printer and 25-year Sonoma County resident, faces a maximum of eight to nine years in prison if he is convicted of all charges, prosecutor Bud McMahon said.
Smith also is charged with driving on a suspended license.
His wife and other family members declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
Bicycle advocates at the hearing bemoaned the number of auto/bike crashes lately. Ken Wells, a founder of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said the latest incident is "why we have jails."
"There are a few bad apples out there that we need to deal with," he said. "I think everyone recognizes this is beyond the pale."
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org