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Santa Rosa real estate agent pleads no contest in Spring Lake hit-run death

Steven Heath appears with his attorney Stephen Gallenson, left, at the Sonoma County Courthouse in Santa Rosa on March 6, 2013.

SCOTT MANCHESTER/ PD
Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 1:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 2:48 p.m.

A Santa Rosa real estate agent pleaded no contest Friday to being the driver in a hit-and-run crash that killed a pedestrian in February on Montgomery Drive near Spring Lake.

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Steven Heath appears with his attorney Stephen Gallenson, left, at the Sonoma County Courthouse in Santa Rosa on March 6, 2013.

SCOTT MANCHESTER/ PD

Steven Harry Heath, 60, faces up to four years in prison in the death of Pacifica political science professor George Black, 64.

His sentencing is June 5.

Heath, who is out on bail, appeared before Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite. The judge noted his pre-trial plea included no promises of leniency. Asked if he understood, Heath replied, “Yes, your honor.”

Heath declined to comment outside court. His lawyer, Steve Gallenson, said his client felt the plea was “the right thing to do.”

“He feels horrible about what happened to Mr. Black and can't imagine the pain he's caused his family and son,” Gallenson said.

Prosecutor Bob Waner said his office has not yet decided whether it will seek a prison sentence for Heath.

Waner said he would review a Probation Department recommendation and speak to the victim's family before taking a position.

Heath could receive anything from probation to four years in prison.

“It's a very serious matter,” Waner said after the hearing.

Heath was driving a Mercedes-Benz sedan Feb. 27 when he struck Black, who walking to a park on Montgomery Drive. He continued driving to his nearby home and contacted a lawyer the next day.

Heath turned himself in to police a day later.

His 2011 Mercedes S550 was found parked in the garage of his Pepperwood Road home with damage to the right front fender.

Numerous witnesses reported seeing a similar car driving erratically in the area at the time of the crash.

He pleaded no contest to all charges. Prosecutors did not extend a settlement offer, Gallenson said. Heath has a valid driver’s license and can continue to drive, he said.

Black's survivors include a 16-year-old son. Family members are expected to speak at his sentencing.

The case is the latest in a string of hit-and-run traffic fatalities in Sonoma County over the past year. Among the last to be sentenced was Marcos Lopez Garcia, 23, of Santa Rosa, who got four years in prison for killing a 4-year-old boy in a crosswalk.

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