Santa Rosa: Plea by Driver who Struck Bicyclist on Golf Course

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An 82-year-old man pleaded no contest this morning in Sonoma County Superior Court to assaulting a bicyclist with his truck on a Santa Rosa golf course last August.

Harry Edward Smith, a Santa Rosa resident, faces up to eight years and eight months in prison when he is sentenced May 3.

Smith pleaded no contest to two counts of assault with his vehicle, as well as hit-and-run and driving without a license.

He also admitted the assault caused great bodily harm.

As part of the plea agreement, charges of attempted murder and threatening to commit a crime will be dismissed at the sentencing.

Smith's attorney Charles Dresow and Deputy District Attorney Barbara Nanney said psychologists examined Smith and the plea agreement was reached because Smith has a mental health condition.

"It's a condition many seniors face," Dresow said.

Dresow said Smith, a Korean War veteran, has led a good life and raised a beautiful family. "It's unfortunate this happened toward the end of his life," Dresow said.

Nanney said the injured bicyclist, Toraj Soltani, 47, a Santa Rosa deli owner, agrees with the disposition of the case.

Judge Ken Gnoss could sentence Smith to probation or a prison term, the prosecutor said.

Smith initially faced 13 years and eight months in prison if he had been convicted of all the charges filed against him, Nanney said.

On Aug. 16, 2012, Soltani was riding on Pythian Road when Smith allegedly began yelling at him and tried to hit his bicycle, Santa Rosa police said.

Soltani fled onto the Oakmont Golf Course to try to escape Smith, but Smith followed him and struck Soltani with his vehicle before leaving the scene, according to police.

At Smith's preliminary hearing, Soltani testified he was sitting upright while riding his bicycle on Pythian Road without his hands on the handlebars to give his back a rest around 5:30 p.m. that day.

Smith pulled his Toyota sedan alongside his bicycle and the pair exchanged words, then Smith struck his thigh, Soltani said.

Soltani testified he became angry and punched the passenger side mirror of Smith's Toyota twice with his fist.

The Toyota was about 12 inches away when Smith said, "You damaged my vehicle. I'm going to get you. I'm going to kill you," Soltani said.

Smith took out his cellphone and said he was going to call the police, Soltani said.

Soltani said he then rode his bike on the sidewalk and turned left on Oak Leaf Drive but Smith followed him.

Soltani said he then rode his bike back to Pythian Road and down the cart path at the golf course to escape the Toyota.

He said he rode about 100 yards when he heard an engine accelerating before the Toyota struck the rear of his bike.

"It's kind of a blur. I went up in the air and the car plowed through me and I went to the ground. I tried to break my fall with my left hand," Soltani said.

The Toyota made a U-turn on the fairway, stopped briefly and sped away, Soltani said.

"I was walking around in a daze," he said.

Soltani suffered a fractured wrist and lacerated tendon but was able to call 911.

A civil suit filed against Smith is nearly resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, Soltani's attorney Tom Kennedy said after today's plea hearing.



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