|Hit-and-run driver faces new charge
Misdemeanor manslaughter charge tacked on to felony hit-and-run for Cowart
The man who struck and killed a retired Sonoma State University professor who was on his bicycle was charged with misdemeanor manslaughter charges on March 18.
The new charge against 69-year-old Robert Ernest Cowart is in addition to a charge of felony hit-and-run. On June 8, 2012, Cowart hit environmental studies professor Stephen A. Norwick with his pickup truck while traveling southbound on Petaluma Hill Road and did not stop to check on Norwick’s condition. Norwick died of his injuries on June 20.
Troye Shaffer, who is prosecuting the case, added the charge after reviewing Cowart’s medical records. According to the Press Democrat, Shaffer would not reveal exactly what in the records prompted the additional charge, citing patient confidentiality laws. But Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook said the charge was appropriate in light of the evidence.
Attorneys for Cowart have stated their client suffered a stroke at some point and may have had an aneurysm impeding blood flow to his brain. They have asked for and were granted a trial for Cowart’s competence set for May 7. Cowart, who is out of custody, was sitting in a wheelchair during his court appearance.
Earlier this year, according to the Press Democrat, the District Attorney's Office received Cowart’s Veterans Administration records, and criminal proceedings were suspended in the fall while the court decided if he is mentally fit to assist in his defense. Two court-appointed psychologists have examined Cowart, but their findings have not been made public. Court records indicate both doctors have been paid by the county for their services.
Cowart faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted. The new charge did not add to his possible jail time.