Rohnert Park man pleads not guilty in hit-and-run crash with bicyclist

  • Wilted flowers mark the scene of an accident where retired Sonoma State University professor Steve Norwick was struck by a truck from behind while riding his bicycle along Petaluma Hill Road, just north of East Railroad Avenue. Robert Cowart was arrested on suspicion of felony hit and run in the accident, which occurred on Friday, June 8, 2012.

A Rohnert Park man accused of driving his truck into a bicyclist and leaving him gravely injured on the side of the road pleaded not guilty Monday to a single count of felony hit-and-run.

Robert Ernest Cowart, 68, appeared in a wheelchair in a Santa Rosa courtroom before Judge Robert LaForge, who increased his bail from $20,000 to $50,000 because of three prior drunken driving convictions.

LaForge earlier Monday considered placing Cowart in jail but allowed him to remain free at the urging of his lawyer, George Boisseau, who argued Cowart is suffering a "severe" medical condition.

Cowart was treated Friday at a Veteran's Administration facility, Boisseau said. The lanky lawyer hovered over Cowart and spoke into his ear as the judge asked questions.

"Mr. Cowart is entering a not-guilty plea to the one-count felony complaint," Boisseau told the judge.

Cowart would not comment as he was wheeled from the courthouse. Both sides will return to court Tuesday morning to set a preliminary hearing.

Prosecutor Victoria Shanahan had asked the court to jail Cowart and requested bail be set at $100,000.

She said Cowart struck retired Sonoma State University professor Steve Norwick on June 8, throwing him into the air, and then "continued with his day" until he was contacted by police.

Norwick, who was riding his bike on Petaluma Hill Road to meet friends, remains in a coma, she said.

However, Boisseau argued $100,000 bail was excessive. He said Cowart has attended all hearings and is not a threat to public safety.

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