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Rohnert Park man sentenced to 10 years in prison for pro cyclist hit-and-run crash

Linda Torckler, with her professional bicyclist son Michael Torckler, outside Memorial Hospital Tuesday, July 17, 2012.

PD FILE, 2012
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 12:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 3:22 p.m.

A Rohnert Park man who disfigured a New Zealand bicycle racer in a hit-and-run crash near Healdsburg was sentenced Friday to more than a decade in prison.

Arthur Ben Yu, 37, pleaded no contest to charges stemming from the June 29 crash that injured cyclist Michael Torckler, who was left with a broken arm and shattered facial bones that required reconstructive surgery.

Yu was charged with stealing his father's car, hit-and-run and reckless driving. Because of his criminal history, which includes four felony convictions, Yu received twice the normal sentence.

“Apparently, Mr. Yu does not get the message about his criminality,” prosecutor Barbara Nanney said in court.

Yu was the latest driver to be sentenced in a string of car crashes that have killed five people riding bicycles in Sonoma County since May.

Trials are pending in several crashes, including the case of Harry Smith, 82, of Santa Rosa, who is charged with chasing a cyclist onto the Oakmont Golf Course on Aug. 16, leaving him seriously injured.

Criminal proceedings have been suspended in the case of Robert Cowart, 68, of Rohnert Park, who is undergoing a review of his mental condition. He's charged in the June 8 hit-and-run crash that killed retired Sonoma State University professor Steve Norwick, 68.

Yu had just been released from state parole when he hit Torckler.

The day of the crash, Yu stopped taking medications prescribed for a mental condition and instead “loaded up on alcohol, marijuana and mushrooms,” Nanney said.

“This is a seriously reckless act,” she said.

He and a passenger, William Fraiser, drove to Alexander Valley where they encountered Torckler descending the winding Pine Flat Road.

Yu struck Torckler as they both rounded a turn. His passenger got out of the car to help the downed cyclist but Yu sped off. He was arrested the next day.

Yu did not speak at his sentencing, in which he received 10 years and four months in prison. He stood in the jury box in a blue jail uniform as Judge Ken Gnoss handed down his punishment.

Gnoss would not let two counselors speak on Yu's behalf. Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre, who was Yu's junior high school counselor, and Carol Coleman, a counselor with the National Alliance for Mental Illness, were turned away.

Outside court, both blamed Yu's mental condition for his actions. Coleman said he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, depression and schizophrenia.

“He needs psychological intervention,” Vas Dupre said. “I don't see any reason for incarceration.”

Bicycle advocates also were in court. Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said it was clear Yu and other drivers have forgotten that roads are public spaces that must be shared.

“I think the guy needs help,” Helfrich said. “What I'm not advocating is turning him loose. Whatever is wrong with him is a danger to society.”

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