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SSU professor hit on bike, gravely injured on Petaluma Hill Road

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: SSU professor hit on bike, gravely injured on Petaluma Hill Road

By MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Friday, June 8, 2012

A longtime Sonoma State University environmental studies professor and avid bicyclist was struck on his bike and gravely injured Friday morning by a hit-and-run driver near Penngrove, the CHP said.

Steve Norwick, 68, was clinging to life at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital while family members traveled to his side, including his wife, Marthe, who was on a trip to Guatemala when her husband was injured, colleagues said.

A Rohnert Park man was arrested Friday after an off-duty CHP officer spotted a damaged Dodge Ram pickup that matched the description of the suspect's vehicle, the CHP said. Robert Cowart, 68, was being questioned Friday night and will be jailed on charges of felony hit-and-run, CHP Officer Eric Hill said.

“He told me he knew he hit somebody and he was late for work. He needed to get to work,” Hill said.

Norwick was struck from behind at 8:38 a.m. while riding on Petaluma Hill Road near East Railroad Avenue.

The impact sheared off the truck's right side mirror and knocked out its front right headlight, leaving evidence at the scene that helped investigators piece together a description of the suspect's vehicle.

The driver was last seen headed south on Petaluma Hill Road toward Penngrove.

Cowart told officers the cyclist was in the middle of the road. But witnesses said the truck drifted onto the shoulder and struck the cyclist, which Hill said was consistent with the physical evidence.

Cowart initially said he stopped and checked on the cyclist, “thought he was OK and left,” Hill said.

But Cowart later admitted “he never stopped,” and that it was because he was late for work, according to the CHP.

Cowart owns a welding and drilling shop.

Norwick, who joined the faculty at SSU in 1974, was a well-known, popular figure around campus, where he nearly always rode his bike, school personnel said.

He took early retirement in 2005 but continued teaching and lecturing part time and is teaching a course through the School of Extended Education this summer, SSU spokeswoman Susan Kashack said.

“Steve is the sweetest man. He always has a ‘hello' for everyone and waves as he's riding his bike around,” Kashack said.

Norwick and his wife live on Petaluma Hill Road, and Norwick uses his bike both for transportation and recreation.

His Friday routine includes a ride to Penngrove for coffee with two friends — Vin Hoagland, professor emeritus of chemistry, and retired geology professor Rolfe Erickson. Both live nearby, said Elaine Leeder, dean of the School of Social Sciences.

At least one of them was with Norwick when he was struck, SSU personnel said.

CHP Officer Kerri Post said Norwick was north of East Railroad Avenue on the shoulder when a witness saw the pickup drift onto the shoulder and hit Norwick, who was knocked down an embankment and into a drainage ditch.

Norwick suffered major head trauma, despite having a helmet on, and was unresponsive when firefighters arrived, Rancho Adobe Fire Capt. Pete Albini said.

Norwick never regained consciousness in the time medics treated and prepared him for transport to the hospital, Albini said.

Hospital personnel said Norwick was in critical condition Friday afternoon, and authorities described his injuries as life threatening.

Over the last two weeks, two bicyclists have been killed in accidents on Sonoma County roads.

On May 24, August Bissiri, 85, of Laguna Woods Village, was struck and killed by a car while riding his bicycle on Highway 1 near Bodega Bay.

On May 31, David Lemuel Standley, 34, of Cotati, died after his bike crashed head-on into an SUV in the dark on River Road near Forestville.

In Napa Valley, Alfredo Hernandez Pedroza, 56, of Napa, was killed May 17 while riding his bicycle on Silverado Trail outside Yountville.

(Staff Writer Clark Mason contributed to this story.)