Robert Ernest Cowart, the 68-year old Rohnert Park man accused of striking a bicyclist with his Dodge truck in Penngrove earlier this month, then leaving the scene, pleaded not guilty to felony hit-and-run this afternoon in Sonoma County Superior Court. Cowart earlier had to post a higher bail to stay out of custody.
At the scheduled 8:30 a.m. court appearance, Judge Robert LaForge raised Cowart's $30,000 bail to $50,000, and said he intended to have Cowart taken into custody. LaForge, however, agreed to postpone Cowart's arraignment until this afternoon to give Cowart time to post the additional bail bond. Cowart posted the additional $20,000 bond before his arraignment this afternoon.
According to defense attorney George Boisseau, Cowart recently suffered a stroke, has an aneurysm in his neck and is hard of hearing. Cowart has appeared in court in a wheelchair.
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The charge stem from the when recently-retired Sonoma State University environmental studies professor Steve Norwick, also 68, of Penngrove, was bicycling with a colleague down Petaluma Hill Road toward a Penngrove cafe. He was struck from behind by a champagne-colored pickup truck, according to witnesses, which did not stop.
Deputy District Attorney Victoria Shanahan asked LaForge this morning to raise Cowart's bail to $100,000. She said the collision threw Norwick through the air. Cowart went to work and "continued with his day," Shanahan said.
Norwick remains in a coma in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, his condition unchanged. Friends and supporters from the were in the courtroom at hearings today.
One of them described Cowart as more alert than in his appearance last week, when his .
Cowart was arrested in the afternoon on June 8 when debris from the truck found at the collision site matched his truck, and surveillance video showed the Dodge truck passing through Penngrove shortly after the collision, according to the CHP. The California Highway Patrol said Cowart admitted to two law enforcement officers he struck a bicyclist but he did not believe he was injured
She said Cowart has three previous DUI convictions, two in 1989 and one in 2005. LaForge ordered Cowart not to drink or drive. Boisseau said Cowart no longer drinks alcohol and will not be driving at all. There is no allegation Cowart had been drinking before the collision, Boisseau said.
A preliminary hearing date might be set in court Tuesday morning.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report