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Probation officials recommend prison time in Oakmont road-rage case

Harry E. Smith, 82, appears in court with defense attorney Charles Dresow for his sentencing at the Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa on Friday, May 3, 2013.

CONNER JAY/ PD
Published: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 11:58 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 12:20 p.m.

Probation officials are recommending prison time for an 82-year-old Santa Rosa man who chased a cyclist onto a golf course in his car and ran into him in what's been described as a case of road rage.

A pre-sentencing report for Oakmont resident Harry E. Smith, who hit Toraj Soltani last summer, calls for the Korean War veteran to spend six years and eight months behind bars.

That's two years less than the maximum possible punishment. He's also eligible for probation.

Smith appeared in court Friday for a sentencing hearing that was ultimately postponed. The white-haired man listened to proceedings with a court-supplied hearing device before leaving the court with his two daughters.

His lawyer, Charles Dresow, said he was diagnosed by a doctor as suffering frontal temporal dementia, which can affect his ability to control impulsive behavior or respond to stresses.

At a new sentencing set for May 31, Dresow will ask Judge Ken Gnoss to consider placing Smith on probation for a period along with other possible restrictions such as electronic home confinement.

“Placement in a controlled and supervised medical environment is more appropriate than prison in this case given Mr. Smith's age, prior service to his country, mental condition and ill health,” Dresow said.

He intends to forfeit his driving privilege, Dresow said. His license is currently suspended.

The request for probation instead of jail time is supported by Soltani, who suffered a serious wrist injury but is recovering, his lawyer said Friday.

Soltani settled a civil lawsuit with Smith; the terms are undisclosed.

Prosecutor Barbara Nanney said her office has not taken a position on what Smith's punishment should be.

The incident, which led to calls to improve cycling safety, happened Aug. 15 when Soltani was pedaling through Oakmont, a retirement community near the scenic Valley of the Moon.

In court testimony, Soltani said Smith drove alongside him on Pythian Road and cursed him for taking his hands off the handlebars to stretch. Smith bumped Soltani in his car and Soltani responded by breaking off his mirror.

A chase ensued in which Smith followed Soltani on residential street, yelling at him out his car window, the cyclist said. Soltani rode onto the golf course to escape and Smith followed him, running into him and knocking him off his bike.

Smith fled but was arrested with the help of another cyclist who reported a similar run-in with him. He initially was charged with attempted murder but pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, hit and run driving and driving on a suspended license.

Smith was a suspect in two other road rage incidents in the past and was convicted of reckless driving with alcohol in 2006.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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