Rio Man Arrested Following Fatal Crash

(Rio) A Rio man was arrested on vehicular homicide charges early Friday morning. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center received a report just after midnight of a substantial single motor vehicle crash involving a Chevrolet Silverado pickup and two occupants in Lowville Township.

The pickup was traveling at a high rate of speed eastbound on Genrich Road when it entered the south ditch, striking a mailbox before overcorrecting and reentering the south ditch at a high rate of speed. The driver fled the scene before deputies arrived. A 32-year-old male passenger found inside the pickup was pronounced dead at the scene by the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Sheriff Roger Brandner says the crash appears to have been caused by reckless driving and alcohol use. The driver was reported to be operating the vehicle in an aggressive manner just before the crash occurred. Numerous skid marks and other signs of reckless driving were observed along the roadway.

A K9 unit and several deputies searched the area for the suspect, who was located around 2am hiding in a wooded area about one mile from the crash scene.  Mitchell K. Merkes is charged with Homicide by Intoxicated Use of a Motor Vehicle and Operating After Revocation, Causing Death. The 29-year-old man has three prior OWI convictions. The investigation is ongoing. The name of the deceased is not being released at this time in order to allow for notification of the family.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office was assisted on scene by the Rio Fire Department, Rio EMS, UW Med-Flight, Blystones Towing, and the Columbia County Medical Examiner’s Office.