Mental competence exam ordered for fatal hit-and-run driver
KTVU.com and Wires
SANTA ROSA, Calif. —
A Rohnert Park man charged with the hit-and-run of a Penngrove bicyclist who died 10 days later was ordered to be examined to determine if he was mentally competent to participate in his defense.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Julie Conger suspended criminal proceedings Friday morning against 68-year-old Robert Ernest Cowart, who was ordered to be evaluated by a doctor. Cowart's next court hearing was scheduled for July 20.
Cowart was charged with felony hit-and-run. The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office was still investigating the June 8 collision between Cowart's Dodge truck and bicyclist Steve Norwick, 68, on Petaluma Hill Road in Penngrove, Deputy District Attorney Troye Shaffer said.
Norwick was struck from behind, according to the California Highway Patrol. The Sonoma State University environmental studies professor, who retired in May, was in a coma for 10 days and died June 19.
Prosecutors said Friday morning that an amended complaint that reflects Norwick's death can be filed against Cowart while criminal proceedings were suspended, but there could not be an arraignment or other court hearings.
Cowart's attorney George Boisseau would not comment on Cowart's mental competence that morning.
"I think it speaks for itself," Boisseau said as Cowart sat in a wheelchair nearby with friends and family members.
During a previous court hearing, Boisseau said Cowart recently suffered a stroke, has an aneurysm in his neck and is hard of hearing.
Video from a surveillance camera at a business in Penngrove showed a Dodge truck driving south through Penngrove shortly after the collision, according to the CHP.
CHP Officer Robert Powers was off duty and working in front of his house when Cowart's Dodge truck arrived home around 4:30 p.m., CHP officials said.
The truck had right front damage and its right side mirror was missing, and a right side mirror from a Dodge truck was collected earlier at the collision site, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.
Powers and a Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety sergeant contacted Cowart, who admitted he was involved in a collision with a bicyclist earlier in the day, Sloat said.
Cowart told the law enforcement officers he didn't believe the bicyclist was injured and he left the scene, Sloat said. He was arrested on June 8 after he was questioned at CHP headquarters in Rohnert Park.
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