Suspect in fatal Guerneville hit-run had record of public drunkenness

Jonathan Ritter will be arraigned today in the crash that killed UC Berkeley's chief lawyer.|

The Rio Nido man suspected in the hit-and-run death of a Berkeley cyclist near Guerneville had a reputation among local officials for his many bouts with public drunkenness and vandalism.

Jonathan Robert Murray Ritter, 28, was arrested Tuesday afternoon, two days after the crash that killed Christopher Patti, 59, UC Berkeley’s top lawyer, on Highway 116 Sunday morning.

Ritter was booked on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run causing death and was to be arraigned today.

Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who responded to the fatal crash, said Ritter grew up in the Cazadero area and was recently homeless.

He frequently drank to excess and was believed to be responsible for damaging public property on several occasions, Baxman said.

Over the past year, Ritter was suspected of breaking windows in a recreation and parks building and at a bus stop, and smashing lights on the Monte Rio bridge, Baxman said.

Court records show convictions for public intoxication going back to 2011. He’s been arrested for trespassing and vandalism, with a case earlier this year.

He failed to appear in court and had a warrant for his arrest for several months. It was cleared Aug. 18 when he contacted law enforcement, sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Russell said.

He was again cited but not booked into jail, Russell said.

“He was a known guy but not for anything heavy,” Russell said. “Just basic street-level crime.”

Now, Ritter is suspected of a deadly offense carrying a possible prison sentence.

Patti was stopped on his bike on the shoulder of Highway 116 when he was hit Sunday morning by a black BMW authorities believe was driven by Ritter. The car kept going after the crash and was later founded abandoned in Rio Nido.

Ritter is believed to have borrowed the car from his friend, the registered owner, CHP Sgt. John Evans said.

Evans would not identify the male owner.

Officers immediately started a search for Ritter, focusing Tuesday on a house on Starrett Hill Drive in Monte Rio after learning he might be in the area, Sheriff’s Lt. John Molinari said.

Eventually, Ritter emerged, hands in the air, from a nearby amphitheater and tennis court area where he had been hiding, Molinari said.

Because of the amount of time that passed, it would be impossible to determine if Ritter had been drinking before the crash, Evans said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

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