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Novato man killed in hit-and-run had been walking in middle of road


A 21-year-old Novato man who was killed July 12 by a hit-and-run driver near Rohnert Park was walking in the middle of the road when a car hit him from behind, CHP officials said.

Investigators don’t know how long Basilio Nathan Garza Jr., a Novato native recently living in Santa Rosa, had been walking after getting out of a vehicle with his girlfriend and two other people when he was struck and killed by a car that drove away, CHP spokesman Jon Sloat said.

He appeared to have just begun to turn when he was hit.

“He had a fight with his best friend, and they both got out of the car. They fought again and walked away in separate directions,” according to CHP investigator B. Smith.

Without a statement from the driver suspected of hitting Garza, investigators still were piecing together what happened in the hours leading up to the deadly collision.

John Mesker, 33, of Santa Rosa turned himself in two days after the crash but declined to talk with the investigating officer, Sloat said. Mesker posted bond on $20,000 bail and was released Tuesday, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors have not yet filed any charges against Mesker. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

Sloat said investigators don’t yet know if either man was intoxicated at the time.

Garza’s death has been keenly felt in Novato, where he grew up. He was a Boy Scout and played lacrosse before graduating from San Marin High School in 2011.

For for the past 2½ years, Garza worked at Whole Foods Markets in Novato and at both stores in Santa Rosa.

Recently, he helped run the prepared foods department at the branch on Yulupa Avenue, said Leslie Graves, a marketing and community relations team leader.

“He was truly an outstanding individual, he was loved by everyone, one of those people who was very present and very bright, both in spirit and in his actions,” Graves said.

“This is a tragic, tragic loss,” she said.

Mesker has a history of arrests and convictions involving alcohol and drugs, according to court records.

Just two weeks before Garza was hit, Mesker was arrested by the Sonoma Police Department after an officer pulled him over on suspicion of speeding on Highway 12, Chief Bret Sackett said. The officer noted Mesker “showed objective symptoms of consumption of alcohol and drugs,” Sackett said. Police said a search of the car turned up methamphetamine and needles. He was charged with drug possession, intoxicated driving and a probation violation and bailed out of jail July 7.

Earlier this year, Mesker was convicted of being a felon with a stun gun. In that case, Mesker was pulled over in El Verano with a malfunctioning headlight and brake lights and a police dog detected drugs in a backpack, a Sonoma County sheriff’s spokeswoman said. Police found needles, syringes, spoons, pipes, a scale and a police scanner inside, she said.

Garza’s body was spotted by a passing motorist about 4:15 a.m. Saturday on Petaluma Hill Road north of Hunter and Snyder lanes.

He got out of his girlfriend’s car after 2:30 a.m., Sloat said.

His location and position were determined by an investigator’s preliminary analysis of evidence in the collision and early results from an autopsy performed Wednesday. Results from toxicology tests taken during the autopsy will take several weeks.