Not Guilty Plea in Hit-and-Run of Cyclist

Robert Ernest Cowart, 68, is accused of crashing his truck into a bicyclist on southbound Petaluma Hill Road in Penngrove before leaving the scene earlier this month.

A Rohnert Park man accused of striking a bicyclist with his Dodge truck in Penngrove earlier this month pleaded not guilty to felony hit-and-run Monday afternoon in Sonoma County Superior Court.

Robert Ernest Cowart, 68, posted an additional $20,000 bond before his arraignment Monday afternoon.

Judge Robert LaForge raised his $30,000 bail to $50,000 Monday morning and said he intended to have Cowart taken into custody. LaForge, however, agreed to postpone Cowart's arraignment until Monday afternoon to give Cowart time to post the additional bail bond.

Cowart, who has appeared in court in a wheelchair, recently suffered a stroke, has an aneurysm in his neck and is hard of hearing, according to defense attorney George Boisseau.

The bicyclist, recently-retired Sonoma State University environmental studies professor Steve Norwick, 68, of Penngrove, remains in a coma in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Deputy District Attorney Victoria Shanahan asked LaForge Monday morning to raise Cowart's bail to $100,000. She said the collision on June 8 on southbound Petaluma Hill Road threw Norwick through the air.

Cowart never stopped, went to work and "continued with his day," Shanahan said. 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.

The California Highway Patrol said Cowart admitted to two law enforcement officers he struck a bicyclist but he did not believe he was injured.

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.

A preliminary hearing date might be set in court Tuesday morning.

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