Albany man recalls fatal hit-and-run
Resident feared the worst after finding bandanna, shoe
CAPITAL REGION The horror of what happened early Saturday morning revealed itself slowly.
First came the noise from the road, then the look out the window to spot a fleeing truck and pursuing police car on Manning Boulevard, Albany resident Ronald Culver recalled Monday.
Seeing something in Manning Boulevard, Culver went out to investigate. It was some sort of bandanna.
“Then I saw one shoe,” Culver told The Daily Gazette at his residence Monday afternoon.
That shoe was behind a nearby car. A second was up on the grass.
“I realized,” Culver said, “something terrible had happened.”
What happened was Paul Merges Jr. of Albany, a bicyclist, father of two and a longtime worker for the state, had been struck and killed by a truck driven by Pablo Cruz of Schenectady. Police say Cruz was drunk and speeding while being pursued by an Albany County sheriff’s investigator.
Cruz, who had recently been released from prison, didn’t even slow down after striking Merges, police said. Instead, he sped up.
Merges’ body, entangled in the truck’s ladder rack above the smashed windshield, wasn’t recovered until the driver’s truck gave out more than a dozen miles west in Rotterdam.
Cruz, a 39-year-old who lives at 1060 Helderberg Ave., Schenectady, was released from prison earlier this month after serving 21 months of a 24-month sentence on a drug conviction.
Described in his obituary as “a good son, brother and father,” Merges was someone who enjoyed boating and skiing. He was also an avid fan of the New York Yankees and Notre Dame.
Merges, 45, was a graduate of St. Pius X School in Loudonville and attended St. Bonaventure University. He then worked for the state for nearly 20 years in the education and taxation and finance departments. Contacted Monday evening, a member of the Merges family declined to comment.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple on Monday said the pursuit started only about a minute before Merges was struck. Apple also said the pursuit followed department policy.
Cruz had spent the previous day and evening drinking heavily, Apple said Cruz told them. He refused to tell them where he was going, what else he was doing and was otherwise uncooperative, Apple said.
A pre-screening test conducted after his arrest estimated Cruz’s blood-alcohol content as .14 percent, Apple said. Authorities are awaiting a court-ordered blood test to give a final concentration, he said.
The sheriff’s investigator first spotted Cruz’s white Chevrolet pickup truck at about 12:50 a.m. Saturday, speeding and running red lights while headed east on Central Avenue.
The investigator had to turn around and wasn’t sure he could catch up to Cruz, when Cruz’ truck was held up by traffic at Everett Road, Apple said.
The investigator then tried to make the stop. It appeared Cruz would stop, Apple said, but he took off again. The investigator then gave chase through side streets, about 35 to 40 mph, Apple said. Less than a minute later, Merges was struck.
The investigator saw Cruz hit the bicyclist, Apple said. It also quickly became apparent that the bicyclist was caught up in the truck. Unmarked cars are not equipped with in-car cameras, Apple said.
The chase ultimately touched Colonie, Niskayuna, Schenectady and finally Rotterdam, where Cruz’s truck gave out. Cruz eventually had to be Tasered to be brought under control, Apple said.
Merges’ body was also recovered.
“It’s a horrible case,” Apple said. “It’s a tragic loss of life because some fool decided to drink and drive.”
“He didn’t care,” Apple said a short time later. “He chose to drink and drive and took a life and he’ll be held accountable for that.”
Cruz now faces one count each of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, along with driving while intoxicated. He faces up to 15 years in state prison, if convicted. He also has two prior felony convictions, which could affect his sentence upon conviction.
Cruz was released from prison on Nov. 2 after serving 21 months of a two-year sentence for a Schenectady drug conviction. He was released as required after serving six-sevenths of his sentence and accumulating required good behavior and other credits, state officials said. The type of sentence meant he did not go before the parole board.
He was to remain under parole supervision until May 2014. Cruz’ earlier conviction came in 1994 in a burglary case.
Back on Manning Boulevard, Culver on Monday recalled meeting Merges’ two brothers as they visited the scene. The brothers, Culver said, placed a small white candle at the base of a nearby street sign.
Also in the sign’s pole Monday was a yellow rose.
“It’s awful,” Culver said Monday, “just awful. That’s the only word to describe it. Just awful.”
Calling hours for Merges are set for this evening from 4 to 8 at McVeigh Funeral Home, 208 N. Allen St., Albany.
Funeral services are set for Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. at McVeigh Funeral Home, with a 10 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial at St. Pius X Church in Loudonville. He is to be buried at Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands.