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A court appearance Thursday marked professional cyclist Michael Torckler's first face-to-face encounter with the man charged with crashing a car into him and then fleeing.

Torckler raised his splinted right hand, swore to tell the truth, and for 25 minutes sat across from Arthur Ben Yu, 36, of Rohnert Park, who authorities say nearly killed him and put him in the hospital for 12 days.

Yu is charged with felony hit-and-run causing injury, reckless driving with injury, auto theft with a prior conviction and possession of a car allegedly stolen from his father. He also faces a misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended license and is being investigated for a possible fifth charge of drunken driving.

When prosecutor Chris Honigsberg asked the bespectacled Torckler if he recognized Yu, his answer was brief.

"No," he said.

The case is in its early stages, but Torckler was in court for testimony that was videotaped for future use because he is returning this weekend to his native New Zealand.

He said that on June 29 he rode about five miles up the steep and isolated Pine Flat Road above Alexander Valley before turning around and descending for about a half-mile before stopping to catch his breath.

"I had a look at the view, got my breath back and that's about as much as I remember," he said.

Torckler, an emerging racer who won the Tour of Borneo in May riding for New Zealand's PureBlack Team, had been in Santa Rosa since mid-June, training with locally based Bissell professional squad.

"I didn't think it was going to be as hard as it was," he said of the climb used as a fitness test by elite international pros, such as Levi Leipheimer, Alberto Contador and Chris Horner.

That is where Torckler's memory stops. It restarts a few days later with the realization that he was in the hospital and falling in and out of consciousness.

When Torckler arrived at the emergency room at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, he had a shattered face, a broken arm and hand and such deep, open wounds around his face that his trauma surgeon was worried he might develop a bone infection if they were not closed immediately.

"He had very complex facial fractures," surgeon David Russell said.

More astounding than the list of injuries Torckler sustained were the injuries he did not, Russell said.

"I think more remarkable is that his injuries weren't worse," he said. "The big shocker for me: How did this kid manage not to injure his brain?"

"If he is not wearing his helmet, he doesn't live, is my guess," Russell said.

Doctors inserted a breathing tube to prevent swelling from closing Torckler's airway.

"It was not a pleasant sight to see him," Torckler's mom, Linda, said of her arrival at Memorial after flying from New Zealand.

When Linda Torckler and her husband, Brohn, were informed their son had been hit, they were told it was unclear if the second of their three children would live. But officials have called Torckler's recovery remarkable.

Torckler was moved July 6 from Memorial's main facility to its Acute Rehabilitation Unit. Five days of in-house rehabilitation work later, he was discharged.

"His recovery has certainly been brisk," Russell said.

Torckler shows little evidence of the massive injuries.

Behind rimless glasses, his eyes are slightly bloodshot but his vision is clear. Amid slight swelling, a pink scar extends over his left eyebrow. His right forearm is in a temporary cast because doctors recently discovered he sustained broken bones in his hand.

On Tuesday at Memorial's rehab unit, about 25 thick stitches were removed from his left forearm where surgeons had inserted a titanium plate to secure a broken bone.

Torckler's left knee is swollen and still bears a significant scar from a broken kneecap he sustained last year.

He walks without a limp, but he said his head, face and mouth remain tender.

"I internalize most of my pain," he said with a slightly pained smile.

"His physical conditioning plays a huge part in it, and his motivation to get better," said Tim Dillon, a trauma nurse practitioner at Memorial who gave Torckler one of his final exams Tuesday before clearing him to fly home Sunday.

Torckler said he has been overwhelmed by the kindness extended by people since the collision.

He and his parents have been given free meals from the Pesce family, avid cyclists who own Riviera Ristorante in Santa Rosa; his parents have been housed by Mariko Fischer and Kevin Buchholz, who own Echelon Cycle and Multisport in Railroad Square; and a global fundraiser has been spearheaded by a family in New Zealand that knows Torckler only in passing.

The hit-and-run made national news in New Zealand, said Alwyn Poole, whose son has raced against Torckler and who established a fund to offset the family's costs.

Torckler has health insurance, but his parents face mounting travel costs and lost income from taking weeks away from their jobs. Brohn Torckler is a marine outboard engine technician and Linda Torckler is an office administrator for a used-car dealership.

"In New Zealand, we are very soft on people who hit cyclists with cars, so I think the thing that people are impressed with is the fact that this guy is facing stiff penalties," Poole said of public reaction in New Zealand.

Yu, who witnesses said dropped off a passenger and a dog at the scene before fleeing, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Aug. 30.

Torckler said Yu must live with what he's done, but he is not bitter. After a short period of feeling unsure whether he would race again, he now feels committed to getting back on the bike -- but not until he is home in New Zealand.

"I'll sort that out soon enough," he said.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs. pressdemocrat.com.

She can be reached at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

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