Dr. James Comazzi

Dr. James Leonard Comazzi booking photo.

A Sonora doctor arrested on Monday was accused of a deadly Feb. 10 hit-and-run on Highway 99 that killed a 26-year-old nurse from Reedley, who had stopped to assist with an unrelated crash.

Dr. James Leonard Comazzi, 68, who works as a cardiologist at Adventist Health Sonora, was arrested at the California Highway Patrol Fresno-area office on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run following an eight-month investigation which broke open on an anonymous tip, according to CHP Sgt. Ryan Murakoshi.

Comazzi is accused of a hit-and-run collision that killed Juliana Ramos, who worked as a nurse and had stopped her vehicle on Feb. 10 near Fowler to render aid to a person involved in another crash, according to a Facebook post from the CHP Fresno area office.

"If it wasn't for the tip from Valley Crime Stoppers, this was a case that would have definitely taken much longer, if it got any result at all," Murakoshi said.

During a news conference on Tuesday, CHP Lt. Austin Matulonis announced the arrest with members of Ramos' family as they stood beside an enlarged photo of her.

The initial collision had occurred between a Hyundai Elantra and a Volvo commercial vehicle in the northbound lane of Highway 99 near Manning Avenue, the CHP reported.

The driver of the Hyundai sustained major injuries, and his vehicle was disabled and blocking the furthest left lane, according to the releases made by the CHP.

Ramos drove into the scene as the front passenger of a Nissan Rogue, which was parked in the center median adjacent to the Hyundai.

"Mrs. Ramos exited her vehicle and without hesitation, went to assist the injured driver still seated in his vehicle," the news release announcing Comazzi's arrest said.

Then, according to the release, a red SUV drove between the Hyundai and Ramos' vehicle, hitting Ramos and killing her. 

The first of the CHP’s news releases on the collision said the male driver of the red SUV momentarily stopped and exited his vehicle, then got back inside and drove away from the scene without rendering aid, leaving any identifying information or calling for assistance. 

The CHP Fresno area office released a request for public assistance on Feb. 11 calling for anyone with more information to contact them or the Valley Crime Stoppers, an anonymous tip line and nonprofit organization that offers rewards related to crime in the Central Valley.

The original reward offered was $1,000, the CHP said.

Murakoshi said the tip in April led investigators to the vehicle suspected of being involved in the crash, which was vetted and confirmed to be registered to Comazzi.

The Fresno CHP investigators worked with officers from the Sonora area and the Stanislaus County auto theft unit to match the description of the vehicle and conduct surveillance on Comazzi, he said. 

Murakoshi said the investigation took longer than normal due to the cross-county communication.

Comazzi was contacted by officers during the course of the investigation and declined to comment without an attorney present and was never interviewed, Murakoshi said. 

The attorney, which Murakoshi did not know the name or office of, was in contact with the CHP and was contacted about the arrest warrant before Comazzi turned himself into the Fresno office on Monday. 

Adventist Health Sonora spokesperson Jaquelyn Lugg said in an emailed statement that Comazzi was not seeing patients in the hospital’s facilities or medical offices at this time. 

“For the allegations involving Dr. James Comazzi, processes laid out in the Medical Staff Bylaws are being followed,” she said in an email. “While we cannot disclose details of the investigation, we can assure our community that we have taken all steps to protect our patients and staff. We are not at liberty to comment further.”

Comazzi received his medical license on July 10, 1979, following graduation from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1978, according to the Medical Board of California.

His license is for a physician and surgeon, and expires on May 31, 2023. His address of record is at Sierra Cardiology at the main Adventist Health Sonora building on Greenley Road. 

There’s no record of disciplinary or malpractice actions against Comazzi’s license.

A link to Comazzi’s profile on the Adventist Health website is no longer available as of Wednesday.

Comazzi founded Sierra Cardiology in 1983, according to a past questionnaire conducted by The Union Democrat, which also said he grew up in El Sobrante and completed medical school, residency and fellowship at Loma Linda University. 

A note in the questionnaire said Comazzi’s special interests within cardiology are "management of pacemakers and implantable defibrillators, treatments for cardiac disease that minimize or eliminate the need for medications, and cardiac disease prevention and extension of lifespan with more healthy years."

Comazzi was arrested at the CHP office in Fresno at 5:35 p.m. and booked into the jail at 6:13 p.m. Monday, according to booking logs from the Fresno County Jail. His bail amount was identified as $15,000, and he bonded out of custody at 6:48 a.m. Tuesday. 

Tony Botti, spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, said Comazzi put up $1,050 for bail. 

Comazzi's arrest follows a series of high-profile arrests from the medical community in Tuolumne County and Adventist Health Sonora.

Joseph Pineda Pimentel, 37, a former surgical technician, was arrested early last month on suspicion of multiple rapes in Sonora and the Central Valley.

Heidi Butler, 39, a former nurse, was arrested at her Sonora home in September 2020 on suspicion of attempting to hire a hitman to murder her husband.

Keith Eaton 41, a registered nurse, was arrested at his Twain Harte home on suspicion of sex crimes involving a child under 10. 

Danny Anderson, a former Sonora doctor, was convicted by a jury in Tuolumne County Superior of three counts of vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run resulting in serious injury and reckless driving related to a October 2016 crash in La Grange that killed three people and injured three others.

Anderson was found guilty in July 2018 and sentenced to five years, four months in prison before he was released on parole in July 2020. He also went to Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1975, a few years before Comazzi. 

Murakoshi said the Anderson arrest was mentioned "in passing" by Sonora investigators as a hit-and-run involving a doctor prior to Comazzi's arrest. 

At the time of the conversation, it was known Comazzi was a registered owner of the vehicle, but they did not know at the time that he was the driver, Murakoshi said.

“None of the allegations in these cases align with our values as a healthcare organization, and we take them very seriously,” Lugg said. “Adventist Health conducts extensive background checks and takes action as appropriate.”

Alisha Gallon, district director for Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, provided a video of a digital press conference Patterson made in the wake of Comazzi’s arrest calling for the passage of legislation that would stiffen penalties for fleeing the scene of a fatal or injury-causing accident.

Patterson’s office said Assembly Bill 582 would close a loophole that would increase sentences for hit-and-run resulting in injury or death from a maximum of four years in prison to be in line with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which is around 12 years.

The bill, dubbed Gavin’s Law, is named after Gavin Gladding, a Clovis Unified School District vice principal who was killed in a hit-and-run incident in 2018.

“Here we are again with another stark example of the big loophole that is in our drunk driving laws and why Gavin Gladdings law is more important than ever,” Patterson said in the statement. 

The bill has previously been introduced but has not passed, Patterson’s office said. He plans to reintroduce the bill again next legislative session.

Another recent fatal hit-and-run locally involved 17-year-old Molly Burgess, of Columbia, who was struck and killed on Feb. 28 while she was walking near Highway 49 and O’Hara Drive by a vehicle that then left the scene.

Lisa Dianne Hunt, 67, of Columbia, was arrested March 25 in connection with the accident and has since pleaded not guilty to a single felony charge of hit-and-run causing death. 

Hunt faces up to four years in prison if found guilty at her trial, which is set to begin Jan. 3 in Tuolumne County Superior Court.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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