A Little Canada, Minnesota, career criminal has been charged for allegedly shoving another man in front of an oncoming car on Wednesday night. Michael John Merten III faces charges of second-degree murder for allegedly shoving Robert Alan Hilgren, 47, in front of a car while they were engaged in a confrontation in the middle of Rice Street. Hilgren died as a result of his injuries.
According to a criminal complaint filed on Friday, Hilgren, his wife and their son, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday, were drinking at a friend’s house. When the Hilgrens were preparing to leave, they were unable to find their son, who is identified by the initials “P.H.” in the complaint. As they drove away, Hilgren’s wife received a call on her cell phone from P.H., who screamed that he was being chased by a “big, crazy dude.” She then informed Hilgren that she believed their son was about to be attacked.
At that point, Hilgren reversed course and drove up on his son and Merten, 41, “squared off” and appearing about to fight. Hilgren exited his car, approached the two men and told Merten that the young man with which he was fighting was his son and that it was his 23rd birthday. He asked Merten, “You want a piece of me?” The two older men then began to fight.
While the men were fighting , a 2006 Toyota 4Runner approached on Rice Street. The driver of the Toyota saw two men on the northbound side of the road without shirts and engaged in a fight. The driver alleges that one of the men deliberately pushed the other in front of his car and that he was unable to stop or swerve in enough time to avoid hitting the man with the car. According to the complaint, the driver showed no signs that he had been drinking at the time of the incident. Emergency personnel administered CPR to Hilgren on the scene, but later said that his injuries had been so severe that there had not been much hope that he would survive. He was transported to Regions Hospital, where he died of his injuries.
Witnesses of the incident reported to authorities that after Hilgren was struck by the car, Merten calmly walked to the side of the road and stayed on the scene until the arrival of police, at which point he ran away. Officers later found him at his father’s mobile home, located in the 2400 block of Rice Street. The complaint relates that after the fight, Merten spoke with his father, telling him that he had confronted three suspicious-looking men who had been standing outside by another mobile home. He said that the men started to approach him threateningly, so he escaped by running toward Rice Street. He then told his father that he and the men were in the middle of the street and one had gotten hit by a car. After his arrest, according to the police report, Merten asked the officers repeatedly why he was being taken into custody.
Although the driver of the Toyota, Hilgren’s wife and other witnesses allege that Hilgren was deliberately pushed in front of the car, another witness claims that Merten was struggling to get free of Hilgren when Hilgren stumbled and fell in front of the car. The autopsy performed on Hilgren listed his cause of death as homicide resulting from multiple traumatic injuries. Merten is currently in the Ramsey County jail, and his bail has been set at $250,000.00.
Both Merten and Hilgren have had previous encounters with the Minnesota justice system. In 1990, Merten was involved in a high-speed police chase before losing control of the car. Four of the officers who had been following Merten beat him while taking him into custody, which resulted in Merten winning a settlement of $49,000.00 from the state of Minnesota, Washington County and the city of St. Paul. Two years after, police attempted to pull over the car which Merten had purchased with the settlement money. Merten again led them on a high-speed chase, after which he was found guilty of driving while intoxicated and evading police. He was convicted again in 2002 after violating a restraining order for harassment.
For his part, Hilgren has been also been no stranger to the Minnesota court system. Although in 1994, he was hailed for assisting in the rescue of a man, 88, and his dog whose car had plunged into Lake Vadnais, he also has convictions for, among others, misdemeanor and felony domestic assaults and malicious punishment of a child. He recently spent time in prison for violating his probation.
By Jennifer Pfalz
St. Paul Pioneer Press – Print