Driver Suspected of Hitting, Chasing Bicyclist Charged With Attempted Murder

Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition launches campaign to protect "vulnerable road users."


The Santa Rosa man accused of chasing and striking a bicyclist with his vehicle on a golf course earlier this month was charged with attempted murder in Sonoma County Superior Court this morning.

Harry Smith, 82, who was free on $100,000 bail, was immediately taken back into custody. Judge Robert LaForge set his bail at $1 million.

Smith is also charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, hit-and-run, making criminal threats against the victim and driving on a suspended license. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 10.

Smith allegedly struck bicyclist Toraj Soltani, 47, with his 1997 Toyota Avalon sedan on the golf cart path of the Oakmont Golf Course in Oakmont around 5:15 p.m. on Aug. 15.

Soltani was riding on Pythian Road when Smith allegedly began yelling at him and tried to hit his bicycle, Santa Rosa police Sgt. Steve Fraga said.

Soltani fled onto the golf course to escape Smith, but Smith followed him and struck Soltani with his vehicle before leaving the scene, Fraga said.

Smith was arrested Aug. 18 after a woman who also had been harassed by an elderly male driver in a gold or tan vehicle in October on Pythian Road in Oakmont contacted Santa Rosa police and provided the vehicle's license plate, Fraga said.

Soltani identified Smith as the driver who pursued and struck him, Fraga said.

LaForge denied defense attorney Charles Dresow's request to lower Smith's bail or order electronic home confinement. The judge agreed with Deputy District Attorney Barbara Nanney's argument that Smith was a danger to the community when he drives.

Dresow said Smith is in poor health and a psychologist is preparing a neurological report on his client. Last week he said Smith might be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Before the hearing this morning, the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition announced a campaign to pass a "Vulnerable Road Users Protection Ordinance" throughout Sonoma County.

The ordinance would allow bicyclists and pedestrians who are harassed by motorists to recover damages, attorney's fees and punitive damages in cases of legitimate harassment.

Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition executive director Gary Helfrich said Smith has a prior record of harassing people riding bikes, and the ordinance would help catch people who harass and threaten bicycle riders and pedestrians, hold them accountable for their behavior and prevent them from becoming assailants.

Sonoma County attorney David "Max" Beach said the ordinance is based on one passed in Los Angeles in July 2011.

"They've had good success with it. I see no basis for a constitutional challenge to it," Beach said.

It was the -- including fatalities -- and confrontations this summer in Sonoma County.

What do you think should be appropriate punishment for Harry Smith, the Santa Rosa man accused of running down a cyclist?

Barry Bussewitz September 01, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Wow! Mr. Smith makes a very good case for the proposed ordinance! Being able to recover expenses can make a big difference. Regarding the term "legitimate harassment" however, I'd prefer simply harassment (or endangerment). If a modifier is required, how about sustained or hostile — anything but "legitimate"! (Need Missouri candidate Todd Akin be recalled?)
Ed September 01, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Do these a$$hole drivers know that we cyclists receive a $ 280.00 ticket for riding on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk. I've had drivers ride close to my children on Petaluma streets and YES, I have them ride near the curb ON the sidewalk most of the time because bike lanes end abruptly. HE should have his licence removed and be given a bi, or tri, cycle for his transportation to understand


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