A 93-year-old Sonoma man was struck in a crosswalk and killed in a hit-and-run crash Wednesday while attempting to traverse the busy street on his motorized scooter.
The suspected driver, an 80-year-old Boyes Hot Springs man, had recently lost his license because he failed a driving test, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Joe Bick Kwai Lee was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run with death, vehicular manslaughter and driving with a suspended license, authorities said.
Alvin Hesse, a World War II veteran and longtime KRON television employee who lived in senior housing nearby, died after he was struck as he crossed Fifth Street West on his motorized, three-wheeled scooter, police said.
The crosswalk — the same one where an 82-year-old woman was killed six years ago — had recently been outfitted with mounted flashing lights and an audible warning system, Police Chief Bret Sackett said. It also has flashing lights embedded in the pavement, he said.
But Lee told police he did not see anyone in the crosswalk, though he eventually acknowledged feeling a shudder in his steering wheel and thought he'd run over some debris, the chief said.
"He said he kind of heard it and then felt it in the steering wheel, but he looked in the rear view mirrors and didn't see anything," Sackett said.
Hesse's caretaker and longtime friend, Jack Seuberth, said Hesse had been heading toward the Safeway across from Studley Street and was destined for a CVS pharmacy and coffee shop a few blocks away, where the two were supposed to meet for coffee.
Hesse used the scooter because he had difficulty walking, but was otherwise in great health and enjoyed being independent, Seuberth said. The three-wheeler was equipped with a tall, orange flag to improve Hesse's visibility, he said.
Seuberth, who was nearby in his car on Studley Street, heard sirens shortly after the 3:53 p.m. crash and immediately feared something had happened to his friend.
"I've worried about that crossing there so many times, and he was very cautious about it when he did go by there," Seuberth said. "Evidently that guy — whoever hit him — came and went. He didn't even see him, evidently."
Police officers were on the scene quickly while others fanned out in search of a silver PT Cruiser matching the one involved in the crash.
A similar vehicle with front-end damage was stopped on Napa Road at Burndale Road, where Lee denied having been in a crash, Sackett said. But during follow-up investigation, he acknowledged having run over something, though he apparently hadn't realized it was a person, police said.
Lee also made statements acknowledging the suspension of his license, Sackett said.
He was arrested and booked into the Sonoma County Jail overnight, but was in the process of posting bond for $50,000 bail on Thursday afternoon, jail personnel said.
A DMV representative said Lee was referred to the agency in July for re-examination, a process designed to determine if someone is still fit to drive.
It was unclear how or by whom he was referred. Reexamination can be initiated by law enforcement, medical personnel, family members, friends or neighbors, or triggered by specific circumstances such as multiple accidents or reckless driving, the DMV said.