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SSU professor injured in Penngrove hit-and-run crash dies

The Press Democrat: SSU professor injured in Penngrove hit-and-run crash dies

By MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Steve Norwick died Tuesday, ending 12 days of agonized waiting for signs that the beloved professor and conservationist might survive the devastating injuries suffered when he was struck on his bicycle by a hit-and-run driver.

Norwick, 68, died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital surrounded by family members, including his wife, Marthe, and two adult daughters, Rebecca and Sara, who have held vigil since soon after the June 8 collision in Rohnert Park.

Norwick never regained consciousness but he was not in pain, said his daughter, Sara-Rozet Norwick of San Francisco, who announced her father's death Wednesday morning.

She said her family hopes that what's remembered is her father's legacy “of living simply, and outdoors, in nature.”

She said the deluge of love and support from friends, former students from Sonoma State University and the cycling community compensates for the conduct of the driver who witnesses said never so much as slowed down.

“Something like this should leave one feeling bad about humanity in that the driver drove away from the accident,” she said. “But it's sort of the opposite, the way the community came together ... It's actually left us with a better feeling about humanity, a positive feeling.”

Marty Roberts of Sebastopol, a longtime friend and former student, said she hopes Norwick “was able to feel all the outpouring of love that has been demonstrated these last few days.

“And I hope this will lead to more unsafe drivers getting off the road,” Roberts said. “We have lost a very special human being.”

Norwick, who taught for nearly four decades in the Environmental Studies and Planning Department at SSU, retired in 2005 but continued teaching for several years, finally retiring for real at the end of spring term.

He was hit on Petaluma Hill Road while on his regular Friday morning bike ride from his house around the corner from campus to breakfast with friends in Penngrove.

One of two usual companions, retired geology Professor Rolfe Erickson, was riding about 10 feet ahead when a Dodge pickup struck his friend from behind.

The driver continued on, leaving behind pieces of headlight and a side mirror, and did not report the crash, authorities said.

Two off-duty law enforcement officers talking that afternoon in their Rohnert Park neighborhood noticed when another neighbor backed into his driveway in a damaged pickup matching the description of the suspect vehicle.

The owner, Robert Cowart, 68, admitted having struck a bicyclist but said he was late to work and thought the cyclist was all right, authorities said.

Cowart has since been charged with felony hit-and-run driving and, with Norwick's death, could now face vehicular manslaughter charges, prosecutors have said.

CHP Officer Jon Sloat said a supplemental report would be submitted to the District Attorney's Office seeking the more serious charge.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said through a spokeswoman Wednesday that any additional charges must await results of toxicological tests on the defendant.

Cowart is reportedly in poor physical health and appeared unsteady and in need of a wheelchair during recent court appearances.

His attorney has said he suffered a recent stroke and aneurism that may have impaired blood flow in his brain. Neither the lawyer, George Boisseau, nor Cowart's family has responded to interview requests, and it remains unclear if Cowart's infirmity predated the collision.

Norwick's son-in-law has attended some court hearings and served as the family's liaison to the District Attorney's Office, Sara-Rozet Norwick said. The family has little taste for the criminal case, though relatives may pay it more attention once the traditional Jewish seven-day mourning period is over, she said.

Gary Helfrich, a former student of Norwick's who is now executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, on Wednesday remembered when Norwick talked him down in a moment of intense anger.

“He sat me down and he said, ‘Look. Revenge is a refuge of the ignorant,'” Helfrich said. “And I've always remembered that every time I've gotten angry about something.”

“Steve would not want people to be angry at somebody for ending his life,' Helfrich said. “It's incredibly hard to not feel that way, but I have to remember how he would react, and he would rise above.”

Sara-Rozet Norwick said the family would hold a small, private service for her father in the next few days and later announce a public celebration of her father's life.