Hit-and-run driver freed after transfer to Napa nixed
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By Dave Williams  January 3, 2014 12:00 am

The man charged with the hit-and-run death of retired Sonoma State environmental studies professor Steve Norwick was released from jail on Christmas Eve.

Robert E. Cowart, 70, of Rohnert Park, was sprung after an appeals court stayed an order to send him to Napa State Hospital. Cowart was charged with ramming his pickup truck into Norwick, 68, who was on his bicycle heading toward Penngrove on Petaluma Hill Road, and leaving the scene of a crash. He told on off-duty police officer he didn’t stop because he didn’t think Norwick was injured.

The crash occurred on June 8, and Norwick died 11 days later. If convicted of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash, Cowart faces time in prison. Criminal proceedings, however, have been suspended because he’s been deemed mentally incompetent to stand trail. 

Court papers show Cowart is being treated for vascular dementia, but his attorneys told a judge he suffered a stroke and had an aneurysm that could have impeded the blood flow to his brain. During court appearances, Cowart has shown up in a wheelchair and has seemed disoriented.

A judge two weeks ago ordered Cowart to undergo treatment at Napa State. He was out on $50,000 bail but was placed in custody of Sonoma County law enforcement until he could be transferred. His lawyers in their appeal argued the Napa State facility would be unable to restore Cowart’s competence. One of his attorneys, George Boisseau, said in legal papers that Coward is receiving outpatient treatment from the Primrose Adult Daycare Program and the Veterans Administration would be more effective than a stay at Napa State.

The stay, granted by the 1st District Court of Appeal, will remain in place until the best care for Cowart can be decided. That decision could come sometime later this year. The judge, Medvigy released him from jail Tuesday after a hearing in which he admonished the elderly man him not to drive.

According to court papers, Cowart is being treated for vascular dementia. His lawyers initially told a judge Cowart suffered a stroke and had an aneurysm that might have impeded blood to his brain.

He has appeared disoriented at his numerous hearings, which he attends using a wheelchair.

But his lawyers appealed Medvigy's orders on grounds that the state hospital will be unable to restore Cowart's competence. Attorney George Boisseau said in legal papers that outpatient treatment Cowart is receiving from the Primrose Adult Daycare Program and the Veteran's Administration would be more helpful.

The 1st District Court of Appeal granted a stay until it could decide the best care for Cowart. A decision could come sometime next year. The judge, Gary Medvigy, ordered Cowart released from jail after ordering him not to drive.


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