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Trial ordered for Oakmont man accused of running down cyclist

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 6:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 6:34 p.m.

A Santa Rosa cyclist who said he was chased onto a golf course by an angry driver and struck testified Thursday that he punched the car's side mirror and broke it after the driver bumped him a few minutes earlier.

Toraj Soltani took the stand in a hearing to decide if Harry E. Smith, 82, can be tried on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit and run driving in the Aug. 16 incident in the Oakmont retirement community.

Smith faces more that 13 years in prison if convicted.

Soltani, who suffered a broken wrist and other injuries, said he was riding on Pythian Road when he heard honking behind him.

A white-haired man he identified in court as Smith pulled alongside and began yelling at him because he took his hands off his bars to stretch his back, he said.

“He said, ‘Get out of Oakmont, you son of a bitch,'” testified Soltani, 48. “‘You don't belong here.'”

Soltani said Smith bumped into his thigh with his car, causing him to wobble but not fall. Soltani responded by swinging at Smith's side mirror with his left fist, twice, breaking it off its mounting, he said.

Smith exploded with profanity, yelling, “I'm going to kill you,” Soltani testified.

“He was very red in the face during the entire encounter,” Soltani said.

Soltani turned onto Oakleaf Drive to get away but Smith followed, shouting that he would call the police. When Soltani doubled back, Smith continued to pursue him, he said.

That's when the cyclist said he hopped a curb on Pythian Drive to flee onto a golf course cart path.

“I thought it would be a good idea to ride down the cart path and escape the situation,” he testified.

But Smith followed him onto the course, he said. He heard a car engine and was struck in the rear wheel, he testified.

The impact threw him into the air, he said. He came down on the path and was struck by the car, he said.

Soltani said he got to his feet as Smith pulled a U-turn on a fairway and sped off.

A neighbor saw the crash and rushed out to help, he said.

Soltani's left wrist was fractured with a tendon sticking out of the skin, he said.

He was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where he underwent two surgeries, he said.

Smith was arrested three days later after police received a tip from another cyclist who reported a similar run-in with him. Smith, who is free on bail, was a suspect in two road-rage incidents in the past year and was convicted of reckless driving with alcohol in 2006.

He didn't testify Thursday but got a warning from Judge Ken Gnoss when he made a loud groan in reaction to Soltani's testimony.

“I apologize for that outburst,” Smith told the judge.

Smith's lawyer, Charles Dresow, said Smith never intended to kill Soltani, pointing to what he called light damage to the bike.

Also, he questioned why the cyclist didn't immediately report the threats to police or tell news reporters that he punched the mirror.

He asked if that was how his wrist was injured.

Soltani said no.

Prosecutor Barbara Nanney said Smith acted in a state of rage. She said he made a direct effort to kill Soltani.

Gnoss agreed with prosecutors, ruling there was sufficient evidence to try Smith on all six charges. He ordered Smith back in court Nov. 20 to set a trial date.

Meanwhile, Soltani, the owner of a popular Santa Rosa restaurant, is back at work. His lawyer, Brendan Kunckle, said Soltani is suing Smith in civil court for damages including $140,000 in unpaid medical bills.

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