Bicyclist killed in hit-and-run was UC Berkeley chief lawyer

- A bike ride ended tragically Sunday morning just west of Guerneville, when a cyclist was struck and killed UC Berkeley's chief counsel, who was standing on the side of the road.

The driver paused, but did not stop, and the California Highway Patrol has identified a "person of interest" in the death of 59-year-old Christopher Patti, who was Cal's top lawyer.

Investigators Monday night were still seeking 28-year-old Jonathan Ritter, and urging him to come in for questioning.

"The car got off the road, and got in that loose gravel and started sliding sideways," described Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, "and the driver slid all the way across two lanes into the guard rail."

Witnesses said the BMW was going too fast to safely navigate a curve on Highway 116.

Baxman arrived about 8:45 a.m. to find the damaged car already gone, a mangled bicycle with its light still flashing, and Patti lifeless on the highway shoulder.

It's just too bad. Sunday morning, a guy going for a bicycle ride, it's just not fair," Baxman told KTVU.

Patti had pulled well off the busy road to stop and look at his phone.

The impact threw him onto the trunk of the BMW, and slammed him against the rear window, shattering it.    

"He did everything right, " Baxman said, "with the right gear, reflectors, flashing lights on his bike, and a helmet on. He was where he was supposed to be."

Patti had a legal career with University of California spanning almost 30 years.

He began as counsel for the UC system, and in 2010 became the lead attorney for UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley issued a statement expressing grief and praise for Patti. The chancellor described him as smart and compassionate, an extraordinary colleague who loved the university, and was motivated by integrity in all he did.

Patti lived in Berkeley, and was married with two sons. Associates say he was an avid cyclist.
"Without the driver stopping at the scene, all we can go on is the information people are telling us," said Sgt. Erik Egide of the Santa Rosa CHP office.

A license plate was recovered on the ground where the car hit a guard rail.

By that point, the BMW had spun around to face the opposite direction, and the driver took off toward Guerneville. The vehicle was later found abandoned near Rio Nido.

The registered owner identified Ritter as the person who had borrowed the car.

"We are calling him a person of interest, and we are looking for him, but we would also like him to turn himself in," said Sgt. Egide.

Neighbors who heard the engine roar, the tires skid, then the collision, came running out but there was nothing anyone could do to help Patti.

"What happened was this kid, Ritter went out of control because he was going too fast," witness Jessica Diurni told KTVU.

"He might have been a rage," Diurni continued, "because I've seen him fighting with his girlfriend, he gets enraged, and he was driving like he was angry."

Baxman also knows Ritter, who he describes as a "street person," and says he's been spotted in the community in the two days since the fatal hit and run.

"I don't think anybody is going to hide him after this, even his best friends," noted Baxman, "because you don't do this kind of stuff and walk away. Where is your regard for that injured person, you have to stop and see if you can help them."


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