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PD Editorial: The cowardice of hitting and running away

  • James Rowe, Jr., left, is comforted with a hug as members of the community gather to mark the 1-month anniversary of the hit-and-run crash that killed 4-year-old Christopher Rowe at the corner of West Ninth Street and Rockwell Place in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, September 18, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Is there anything more contemptible than a driver who hits someone and then speeds away without regard for the well-being of the victim? Nothing comes to mind for us. And, unfortunately, we've had plenty of opportunity to consider this scenario in recent days.

Michael Torckler, a top-ranked professional bicyclist from New Zealand was left hospitalized Saturday after being hit by a car while on a training ride in Alexander Valley. A passenger in the car stayed at the scene of the accident, but the driver left. Authorities later arrested Arthur Ben Yu, 36, of Rohnert Park and booked him on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, hit-and-run driving, stealing a vehicle and driving on a suspended license.

This occurred just three weeks after retired SSU professor Steve Norwick was hit while riding his bike on Petaluma Hill Road. In that case, too, the driver fled the scene. Norwick died 12 days later. Robert Cowart, 68, of Penngrove, was arrested and is awaiting charges including felony hit-and-run.

Meanwhile, in what was one of the most notorious hit-and-run cases in recent memory, the man who struck 4-year-old Christopher "Buddy" Rowe in a marked Santa Rosa crosswalk on Aug. 18 and then fled while the boy lay dying was sentenced to four years in prison on Friday. Prosecutors say after the accident, Marcos Lopez Garcia, 23, of Santa Rosa drove to a park where he tried to alter the appearance of his car by removing a large sticker. <NO1>Police later arrested him with the aid of a bystander who had been listening to reports of the crash on a police scanner.

<NO>He pleaded guilty to felony hit-and-run and other charges. With credit for time already served, he could be out of prison in about 18 months. After that, he's expected to be deported to Mexico.

Now, even as we write this, comes word of another hit and run.The CHP on Monday arrested a Vallejo man on suspicion of leaving the scene of an accident near Petaluma that left a 17-year-old boy dead. The CHP said Michael Scott Harmon, 41, walked away after his truck hit a pickup driven by the American Canyon teen-ager.

What's going on here?

In a perfect world, drivers would be governed by the moral obligation to look after someone hurt in an accident regardless of who was at fault. But this world, as is evident, is far from perfect.

Fleeing the scene of an accident where a person is hurt or killed is already a felony. We don't know if increasing the penalties for such crimes will make a real difference, but it may be a place to start.

Meanwhile, the burden falls to the better angels of our community who reveal themselves by quickly coming to the aid of strangers by the side of the road or jotting down a license number when needed. Without them, we would, no doubt, be left with more victims and far more unsettling questions.


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