Sonoma State student dies after hit by car near campus

A North Bay college student was struck and killed crossing a street Monday.

The Department of Rohnert Park Public Safety said the 21-year-old man was not in a crosswalk.

It happened just after noon on East Cotati Avenue, steps from the Sonoma State campus, which the young man attended. 

"Students come over to the shopping center and then go back to campus," said Rohnert Park Deputy Police Chief Aaron Johnson, "and it's the straightest path to get back to the campus."

Police and fire crews found the victim dead in the east-bound lanes.

He had been struck by a car traveling westbound and flung across the center median, landing more than 100 feet away.

"Truly these incidents are tragic," said Johnson, "you feel terribly for the pedestrian's family and for the driver, lives are changed forever."

A traffic signal and crosswalk are close by but the young man did what many students do, and crossed in the middle of the block. 

"I've done it myself but I usually try to check before I cross, and it's probably not a good idea," said Eva Austin, a Sonoma State junior.

Police say the victim paused on the center median before he was struck.

"It looks like he stepped into the roadway and was hit pretty quickly so we do not think the driver had any time to react," said Johnson.

The driver turned into the next side street and called to report he had hit someone.

Police identified him as Ronald Gaither, 19, of Penngrove.

"We don't think he was trying to evade the scene," said Johnson, noting that Gaither did not show signs of impairment.

The Wolf Den Plaza has a convenience store, and several fast-food restaurants, among other stores.

People pumping gas at 7-Eleven saw the collision in front of them.

"We were all really upset, everybody, we were watching what happened," said 7-Eleven manager Daya Sahota.

He showed KTVU the black Ford Focus, caught by a security camera before it hit the young man. 

"That car comes very fast," observed Sahota.

Police will analyze various videos, and damage to the car, to determine speed.

East Cotati Avenue is a 45 mph zone until it reaches the plaza, when it drops to 35 mph.

Anytime pedestrians step out, police say, they need to make sure they're seen.   

"Make eye contact with the vehicles in the road and if you can't acknowledge that they see you, don't cross," said Johnson.

The advice is the same for drivers who spot a pedestrian: establish eye contact.

Ideally, everyone should use crosswalks. 

"It's easier to just run across the street but is it worth your life especially in this age of distraction and devices?" said Johnson.

Police are also looking into whether either party was distracted by their phones.