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Minnesota man charged with murder after allegedly shoving another man into vehicle's path

A Little Canada, Minn., man has been charged in the death of a man he allegedly shoved in front of an oncoming vehicle Wednesday night.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office charged Michael John Merten III, 41, with second-degree unintentional murder. Robert Alan Hilgren, of Vadnais Heights, had gotten into a fight with Merten about 9:15 p.m. after he intervened in a scuffle involving Hilgren’s 23-year-old son, according to the criminal complaint filed Friday.

Hilgren was taken to Regions Hospital and was pronounced dead.

The complaint gives the following account:

Hilgren, 47, his wife and their son were at a friend’s house drinking. When the couple decided to leave, they could not locate their son, identified by the initials P.H.

As they drove, the wife got a call from P.H., who was screaming that a "big, crazy dude" was chasing him. She told Hilgren she thought P.H. was going to be assaulted.

They turned their car around and saw P.H. and another man, later identified as Merten, "squared off," the complaint said.

Hilgren jumped out of the car.

"That’s my son," he said. "You want to beat up on a 23-year-old kid? It’s his birthday. You want a piece of me?"

Hilgren and the other man ended up fighting in the middle of Rice Street near County Road B2 in Little Canada.

A man driving a 2006 Toyota 4Runner north on Rice Street saw two shirtless men on the side of the road. He saw one man push the other, and tried to stop and swerve. But he could not avoid hitting him, he told police. There was no sign he was under the influence of alcohol, the complaint said.

Other witnesses told police they saw Merten walk calmly to the side of the road after Hilgren get hit. Merten reportedly stayed at the scene, but fled when police arrived. Officers found him at his mobile home in the 2400 block of Rice Street.

Merten told his father that something serious had happened.

"He told his father he had seen three guys outside near another trailer and he thought they looked suspicious so he went to confront them," the complaint said. The younger Merten said the three started to gang up on him so he ran towards Rice Street. They were in the middle of the road when one of the other men got hit by a car, Merten told his father.

The driver of a car behind the Toyota said he saw a man with a shaved head chest-bumping another man. Neither was wearing a shirt. They were "in each other’s faces and arguing," the witness said. It appeared to him that the shove was timed to result in the Toyota hitting the victim.

Another witness said it appeared the bald man was trying to get away from the other man. He saw the two pushing each other, and believed the victim tripped and fell into oncoming traffic.

Several witnesses identified Merten as the man who shoved Hilgren.

The medical examiner said Hilgren died of multiple traumatic injuries and said the manner of death was homicide.

Merten was being held Friday in Ramsey County jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.