|Retired professor Norwick dies
Cowart could now face increased charge of vehicular manslaughter
Retired Sonoma State University professor Stephen A. Norwick died on Wednesday as the result of multiple injuries when, while riding his bicycle, he was hit by a motorist on June 8.
His daughter, Sara Rozet Norwick, made the announcement on Facebook and said her father was surrounded by his family. Norwick, 68, was on his normal ride southbound on Petaluma Hill Road to Penngrove to meet friends for breakfast when he was hit from behind. He never regained consciousness.
Norwick was wildly popular among students and faculty at SSU.
“I think every fourth or fifth person in Penngrove, Cotati and Rohnert Park new Steve,” said Gary Helfrich a close friend of Norwick’s and executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.
Robert Ernest Cowart, 68, of Rohnert Park, was arrested and charged with felony hit-and-run. On Monday, June 18, he pleaded not guilty to the charge in Sonoma County Superior Court. California Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Jon Sloat said authorities likely will be seeking an increase of the charge to vehicular manslaughter. Prosecutors indicated the charge would be upgraded if Norwick were not to survive. Before the announcement of Norwick’s death, a preliminary hearing had been set for 9 a.m., Aug. 16.
Last week, it was revealed in Cowart’s original arraignment hearing he had suffered a stroke recently and an aneurysm may be impairing blood flow in his brain. Boisseau told the court Cowart was treated Friday at a Veteran’s Administration facility.
Cowart, according to court records was convicted twice in 1989 for drunken driving, with his blood-alcohol level at .018 for his first DUI, and he was jailed 20 days for his second. His third DUI arrest came in 2005, where he served two days in jail and was allowed to complete a first-time offender program.
Boisseau told the court his client no longer consumes alcohol and would adhere to the judge’s order to refrain from driving while the case is pending.
Helfrich said this tragedy has little to do with bicycles and automobiles sharing the road and more to do with the capacity of certain people to operate motor vehicles.
“The bigger issue is how we deal with people who have no situational awareness to operate a motor vehicle,” Helfrich said. “He (Cowart) could have just as easily swerved left and plowed into some innocent person coming other way. It takes a lot of courage to go to a father, an uncle or any other elderly person and take the keys away or tell them, ‘you’re going to kill somebody someday.’ It’s one of the toughest conversations you’ll ever have with your parents.”
Helfrich cited a California law requiring physicians to report conditions such as that of Cowart, but said enforceability would be extremely difficult because elderly drivers fearful of losing their driving privileges may opt not to get regular checkups.
“It’s a safety issue for everybody,” Helfrich said. “Any innocent person on Pet Hill could have ben taken out, and sadly it was my good friend. There is no good guy or bad guy here, it’s just a bad scene.”
During the afternoon of the accident, California Highway Patrol Officer Robert Powers and Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety Sgt. Jeff Nicks, who happened to be neighbors in the same neighborhood as Cowart, noticed the damage to Cowart’s Dodge Ram pickup truck matched the description of the truck believed to have hit Norwick.
In a brief conversation after approaching Cowart, Nicks and Powers learned he had driven on Petaluma Hill Road earlier that morning and admitted to hitting a bicyclist. He told authorities he didn’t stop because he believed the bicyclist was OK.
Helfrich said his group would like to pay tribute Norwick in some way but will wait and honor the Norwick family’s wishes.