A Little Canada man has been charged with murder, accused of deliberately pushing a man in front of an approaching car, according to charges filed Friday.
Michael J. Merten III, 41, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Robert Hilgren. The incident occurred at 9:10 p.m. Wednesday in the 2400 block of Rice Street in Little Canada, following an alleged quarrel between the two men.
Hilgren, 47, was trying to protect his son, who had turned 23 that day, the criminal complaint said.
According to the complaint:
Hilgren, his wife and their son had been drinking in the area that night. When the couple decided to leave, they couldn’t find their son.
Then they got a call from him, “screaming that a ‘big, crazy dude’ ” was chasing him and trying to beat him up.
Hilgren and his wife were driving when they saw Merten chasing their son. Hilgren got out of the car on Rice Street, near County Road B2.
“That’s my son,” Hilgren said to Merten. “You want to beat up on a 23-year-old kid? It’s his birthday. You want a piece of me? You want to throw down with me?”
Merten bumped his chest into Hilgren’s chest, and witnesses said Merten shoved Hilgren at least three times.
When Merten pushed Hilgren, Hilgren stepped back toward him, the charge said. At one point, a car honked at the men. Hilgren’s wife told authorities that Merten waited for a second car to approach before pushing Hilgren into its path.
The driver who struck Hilgren told police he tried to swerve but couldn’t avoid Hilgren. The driver did not show any signs of impairment and was driving at an appropriate speed.
Two witnesses told police Merten watched the aftermath from a distance. According to the complaint, they said Merten appeared emotionless and fled when police arrived.
A third witness said it appeared as if Merten was trying to get away from Hilgren, but Hilgren followed him into the street. The witness said it did not appear as if Merten intentionally pushed Hilgren into the car’s path.
Police found Merten in a nearby mobile home park on Rice Street. He answered the door and was arrested. Merten declined to provide a statement but did “repeatedly ask why he had been arrested,” the complaint said.
Officers spoke to Merten’s father, who was at his son’s home. He told police that Merten had said he confronted three guys because they looked suspicious, the charge said.
Merten told his father that the three men ganged up on him as he ran toward Rice Street and that one of the men was struck by a car.
“Merten told his father the police would be coming,” the complaint said. “When asked if his son gets angry easily, Merten’s father said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Hilgren suffered traumatic injuries and died after being transported to Regions Hospital.
Merten’s criminal record includes convictions for violating a harassment order, drunken driving and fleeing a police officer.