Little Canada man allegedly pushes another into traffic

Michael John Merten III
Michael John Merten III

Merten charged with murder

The Ramsey County Attorney's Office has charged a Little Canada man with second-degree murder for allegedly pushing another man in front of an oncoming vehicle during an altercation the evening of Aug. 20.

Michael John Merten III, 41, allegedly pushed Robert Alan Hilgren, 47, in front of a sport utility vehicle traveling on Rice Street near County Road B2 nearby the Terrace Heights Mobile Home Court in Little Canada just after 9 p.m. The complaint states that Hilgren died shortly after being pushed in front of the SUV.

Merten is charged with unlawfully causing Hilgren's death "without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony," according to the complaint. If convicted, Merten would face a sentence of up to 40 years.

Hilgren and his wife were drinking with friends at their friends' house and decided to leave when their son, who had been with them, called and told them a "big, crazy dude" was chasing him and trying to fight him, according to the criminal complaint.

Hilgren and his wife left in their car and soon encountered their son and another man on Rice Street, apparently ready to fight, when Hilgren allegedly "jumped out of the car and confronted the man," as stated in the complaint.

After exchanging words, Hilgren and the man, identified as Merten, ended up in the middle of Rice Street, where Merten pushed Hilgren three times, with Hilgren each time stepping back towards Merten.

At least one car passed and honked at the men, before Merten allegedly timed a push that sent Hilgren in front of a Toyota 4Runner that braked and swerved but still hit him, according to the complaint. 

The driver of the SUV stayed at the scene, and authorities determined he was not impaired nor was he speeding at the time of the incident. The complaint states that investigators were able to access data about how fast the vehicle was traveling and when the motorist braked via the SUV's "black box."

Merten walked away after the alleged push, and Hilgren's wife followed him, screaming at him to return to the scene while Merten allegedly tried to intimidate her with threatening steps toward her.

Eventually Hilgren's wife returned to the scene, where paramedics performed CPR on Hilgren, though they said he had little chance of surviving his injuries.

Hilgren was taken to Regions Hospital, where he was pronounced dead that night; the Ramsey County Medical Examiner ruled he died of traumatic injuries due to the motor vehicle accident and ruled the death a homicide, according to the complaint.

Witnesses in passing cars described the two shirtless men "chest bumping" in the street before Hilgren was hit by the SUV. Some witnesses said the push looked intentional; one said it looked like Hilgren tripped and fell in front of the SUV.

Police arrested Merten, who lived in a nearby trailer with his father, later that night. Multiple witnesses, including Hilgren's wife, identified Merten as the man who shoved Hilgren.

As stated in the complaint, "When asked if his son gets angry easily, Merten's father said, 'Yes.'"

Merten had a first appearance at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 22.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

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