Hit-and-run suspect charged

A 71-year-old Gridley man confesses to killing cyclist on the Midway

The late Rick Magee

The late Rick Magee

PHOTO Courtesy of Steve centanni

A hair on a broken windshield.That’s what started the chain of events that led to the arrest of a 71-year-old farm manager from Gridley on charges of felony hit-and-run and felony insurance fraud for a Nov. 14 collision on the Midway south of Chico that left a bicyclist dead.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced Dec. 4 that Anton “Tony” Mardesich, who is a manager for the Mariani Nut Company, had confessed to being at the wheel of the SUV that struck 61-year-old cyclist Rick Magee as he rode north on the Midway with his longtime friend, Boswell Jones, according to a press release. Magee was struck on a section of the Midway that deviates from the bike path between Chico and Jones Avenue, about halfway to Durham.

The collision launched Magee past Jones, who rode slightly ahead, and onto the pavement. According to an eyewitness account, the SUV continued northbound over the railroad overpass near Roble Road. Magee sustained severe head and internal injuries; he was pronounced dead shortly afterward at Enloe Medical Center.

Steve Centanni, a friend of Magee’s for nearly 40 years, described him as a “kind and loving person who was devoted to his friends and family. He was a big bicycle enthusiast and rode his bicycle every day somewhere around the countryside.”

Magee also carefully tended to a large vegetable garden and trees on his acre of land in Durham.

“He loved to nurture plants and trees, and friendships as well,” Centanni said. “He was just a sweet person.”

In a phone interview, Ramsey said Mardesich’s decision to flee the scene demonstrated “extraordinary irresponsibility and callousness.”

The California Highway Patrol investigation leading to the charges holds that Mardesich, who previously had a clean criminal history, also made significant efforts to conceal his involvement in the collision. When he took the SUV (a 2007 Ford Edge registered to his employer) to a Gridley auto body shop the day after the hit-and-run, he claimed damage to the right front headlight assembly, right corner panel and passenger side windshield were caused by a falling tree limb. He also filed an insurance claim using the same story, according to the report.

On Nov. 16, a mobile windshield repairman alerted the auto body shop’s secretary to what he believed was a human hair on the SUV’s windshield. On Nov. 19, an auto painter working in the shop told the same secretary he witnessed Mardesich smearing mud on the SUV’s right headlight and windshield in the shop’s yard. That night, the secretary saw a local television report about the hit-and-run that ran a description of the suspect’s vehicle that matched Mardesich’s SUV. On Nov. 20, the secretary reported her suspicions to the CHP.

CHP investigators contacted Mardesich on Nov. 21 to inform him of his suspected involvement in the Nov. 14 hit-and-run. His presence was requested at the CHP headquarters in Chico following the Thanksgiving holiday. According to his attorney and family, Mardesich was hospitalized twice for “cardiac events” in the following week.

Mardesich confessed to CHP investigators on Nov. 27, saying “he could no longer live” with his crime. He related veering into the right shoulder after momentarily glancing at his vehicle’s center console, seeing Magee riding ahead of him and unsuccessfully attempting to avoid him. Mardesich said he continued driving for several hundred yards, pulled over and “panicked,” deciding to flee the scene. He also admitted to lying to his family and insurance company.

However, Ramsey noted that “according to his attorney and to the officers who took his confession, [Mardesich] is extremely remorseful.”

There was no indication Mardesich was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or was traveling at an excessive speed. As of press time, he was expected to plead guilty in Butte County Superior Court on Wednesday afternoon. He faces up to six years in prison for the two charges.

A statement prepared by Magee’s friends and family said, “We urge the maximum possible penalty be imposed on both counts … in order to send a message that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and to help ensure safety and security in our neighborhoods.”