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Sonoma County prosecutors to charge driver in Sebastopol cyclist’s 2016 death

Sonoma County prosecutors said they have enough evidence to charge a Healdsburg driver with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, nearly 11 months after cyclist Amy Suyama of Sebastopol died in a crash that authorities say involved his passing truck.

Courtney Rudin, 73, will be arraigned Aug. 11 on the misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum one-year sentence, as well as a vehicle code infraction for wrongful passing, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said.

The case hinges on whether Rudin’s maneuver into the oncoming lane to pass a slow-moving truck was unsafe given the two cyclists coming his way. CHP investigators at the time said they found no evidence Rudin’s pickup made contact with Suyama or her riding partner.

“They (prosecutors) are saying he (committed) an infraction, which I don’t agree with,” said Rudin’s attorney, Steve Spiegelman. “My belief is that this was an accident.”

Friends and family of Suyama, who have pressed for charges to be brought in the crash, said they want the driver to be held accountable.

“She was my family,” said Barbara Iannoli, Suyama’s longtime friend who is in charge of her estate.

Rudin was nearing home on Eastside Road west of Windsor in his 2004 Chevrolet pickup on ?Sept. 10, the day of the Tour de Fuzz charity ride for law enforcement chaplaincy, when he began making the pass on the narrow rural road.

In the oncoming lane, Suyama, 55, of Sebastopol was riding behind her boyfriend, Andy Dean of Santa Rosa, about three quarters of the way into the 60-mile charity ride. Dean has said he saw Rudin’s pickup entering their lane, appearing to accelerate, and it seemed he had nowhere to go.

They crashed, and Suyama landed on the road about 20 feet behind him. She lost consciousness in an ambulance and died outside Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Rudin has told investigators he saw the crash in his rear-view mirror and believed he had completed the pass and was back in his lane by the time he’d passed the cyclists, according to his lawyer. Spiegelman said he was surprised by the charges because he was under the impression there was no clear evidence showing Rudin made an unsafe maneuver.

“My understanding is (the cyclists) were riding very fast,” Spiegelman said. “They were riding right behind each other on a road that is not that wide. The front person overreacted when he saw another car coming, hit the brakes and (Suyama) ran into him.”

CHP investigators have said the precise dynamics of the collision have been difficult to prove, with no uninvolved witnesses or physical evidence.

Rudin’s truck had been traveling at about 25 to 30 mph, according to the CHP, and the cyclists at about 18 to 20 mph. The speed limit was 45. Lead investigator Officer Danny Alconcel said he examined the possibility Rudin had already made the pass and was back in his lane when Suyama crashed - possibly into ?Dean, who may have suddenly slowed in reaction to the traffic.

A cyclist, just like a motorist, has the right to the full lane, and oncoming traffic must cede the right of way, even when it might be legal to pass.

Staebell declined to elaborate on what allowed prosecutors to move forward with a case against Rudin after so many months. The charges come before the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor charge - one year - has passed.

“It was simply a matter of trying to look at all of the evidence together, so that’s what we did,” Staebell said.

Iannoli, Suyama’s close friend said the case is a cautionary one for motorists and cyclists.

“So many Sonoma County drivers behave so recklessly, impatient, it’s scary,” Iannoli said. “Maybe someone, anyone, will hear the message of this. And maybe someone’s life will be saved.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.

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