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Some drivers panic and flee. Some leave because they are drunk, and others run because they aren't licensed to drive.

But all hit-and-run drivers share a similar motivation, say traffic investigators: self-preservation.

"They're worrying more about what's going to happen to them rather than worrying about the person they hit," said Petaluma Police officer Ron Klein.

A rash of hit-and-run collisions that have caused deaths or major injuries in Sonoma County has highlighted the callous nature of the crime.

Three Rohnert Park drivers in less than a month have been accused of leaving the scenes of serious accidents — two since Friday.

The collisions caused two deaths — a teen-ager and a retired college professor — and left a professional bike rider with critical injuries, according to CHP reports.

The men currently face a variety of charges including felony hit-and-run.

Not all such cases lead to arrests.

Frank Moreno, 49, of Santa Rosa was hit as he rode a bike across Fulton Road last November. Nearly a year ago San Francisco attorney Don Casper, 63, was hit from behind and killed as he jogged along River Road. No arrests have been made in either case.

And the identity of the driver of the maroon SUV that hit and critically injured a San Francisco man riding in the 2010 Gran Fondo bike ride remains unknown.

The crimes grate on the public's sense of humanity, say traffic officers who investigate such cases.

"A lot of times people just walk away. How do you do that?" asked Sgt. Lance Badger, a Santa Rosa traffic officer. "How could somebody do this .<TH>.<TH>. see this and walk away?"

Sonoma County's three main traffic enforcement jurisdictions — CHP, Santa Rosa police and Petaluma police — reported 581 hit and run offenses in 2011, 119 of which involved death or injury.

In Santa Rosa in 2011, 417 drivers involved in collisions left the crash scenes, according to department statistics. Of those cases, three involved deaths and 91 caused lesser injuries.

An injury elevates a hit-and-run to a potential felony case. For Santa Rosa in 2011, the District Attorney's Office filed felony charges against 16 drivers and misdemeanor charges against 266, according to police reports. In 135 cases, the driver was never apprehended.

"The hit and run drivers we don't catch, we have no idea why they run," said Badger. But time and again officers see the same themes for why people run.

"Nine times out of 10 somebody leaves the scene because they are unlicensed or under the influence or lacking insurance," said CHP Officer Jon Sloat. "Nine times out of 10 there is another crime being committed."

Drivers who have been drinking or using drugs and leave the scene sometimes want to sober up before talking to authorities, said officers.

That can be a losing proposition. A felony drunken driving conviction can result in a three-year prison sentence. Felony hit-and-run carries a potential four-year prison term.

A misdemeanor hit-and-run conviction, which means no injury was involved, carries for a one-year maximum sentence.

If a DUI is suspected in a hit-and-run case, officers try to retrace the steps of the driver to determine whether they were seen drinking, how much they drank and if witnesses can help prove the driver was impaired.

Saturday, the day after professional cyclist Michael Torckler was hit while training on Pine Flat Road, CHP officers arrested Arthur Ben Yu, 36. He has been charged with felony hit-and-run not drunken driving, although based on a account provide by a passenger in the car with Yu, authorities still are attempting to make that case.

That circumstantial charge would have to be supported by what officers can learn tracing Yu's actions prior to the crash, Sloat said.

CHP officers also are looking at whether Michael Scott Harmon, 41, was impaired at midnight Monday on Lakeville Highway. Harmon lost control of his large pickup and crashed into the smaller one driven by Jahzeel Forsen, a 17-year-old American Canyon youth who died upon impact.

Officers say Harmon walked away from the crash scene after stopping to look in at the teenager. The CHP publicized Harmon's name as a possible suspect and he turned himself in to officers for questioning 10 hours after the crash. He was arrested.

Hit-and-run drivers often plead ignorance, investigators say.

"One of the (excuses) that comes up quite frequently, believe it or not, is "well I didn't think anybody was injured or there was any damage to the vehicle .<TH>.<TH>. so I just left,'" said Badger.

Officers say that's basically what Rohnert Park driver Robert Cowart, 68, told investigators when identified his dented truck as the one that hit bike rider Steve Norwick, 68, on Petaluma Hill Road.

Officers say Cowart continued driving after hitting Norwick, stopped for milk at a nearby market and then went to work. Norwick died 12 days later.

Drivers involved in a collisions are obligated by law to stop, make contact, give and get information and report it to law enforcement if the damage is expected to be exceed $500. In the case of injuries or death, a driver is obligated to seek help and alert authorities.

"Common sense is it's the right thing to do. The reasonable thing to do is stop and make sure everybody is OK," said Badger.

Most do the right thing, said officers.

"I would say in the majority of traffic collisions, the person who caused it does take responsibility for what they've done and they do stick around," said Klein.

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