Competency hearing set in bicyclist fatality
ALBANY Pablo Cruz is expected to take the stand in Albany County Court on Wednesday as his defense attorney tries to show that the Schenectady parolee accused of fatally striking a bicyclist with his truck isn’t mentally fit to stand trial on charges that include second-degree murder.
Cruz, 40, is accused of striking and killing 45-year-old Paul Merges Jr. of Albany as he sped down Washington Avenue more than 25 mph over the posted speed limit in a 1997 Chevy pickup in November. Cruz allegedly was drunk when an Albany County sheriff’s investigator spotted him driving erratically and attempted to stop him less than a minute before the fatal crash.
A competency hearing for Cruz before visiting Judge Andrew Ceresia started in Albany County Court last week and is expected to continue Wednesday, when he’s expected to take the stand. Cruz also is slated for a competency hearing in an unrelated civil proceeding he has against a Schenectady-area contractor as a result of a work-related injury he incurred at a Delmar work site more than five years ago.
In the civil proceedings filed in state Supreme Court of Schenectady County last month, Attorney Paul DeLorenzo claims his client is mentally incapacitated and is asking that Nestor Torres — Cruz’s brother — be appointed his guardian. In the filing, DeLorenzo claims Cruz was despondent when he attempted to prepare his client in advance of a trial in the civil matter.
Specifically, DeLorenzo said Cruz was unable to make eye contact or focus. He said his client’s condition prevented him from answering questions posed to him and would ultimately prevent him from assisting his own case at trial.
“It’s petition’s position that the circumstances giving rise to Pablo Cruz’s charges for second-degree murder along with several other charges is what brought about Pablo Cruz’s incapacity and inability to adequately prosecute his claim for injures sustained on the job site,” DeLorenzo stated in the filing.
Cruz’s criminal attorney, public defender Michael Feit, did not return a call for comment Friday. A spokeswoman for the Albany County District Attorney’s office declined to comment on the case in advance of the trial.
High-speed chase in Nov.
Cruz only recently had been released from prison on a drug-related conviction when he got into a high-speed chase with authorities during the pre-dawn hours on Nov. 24. Deputies took chase after they observed him speeding down Central Avenue in Albany and running red lights.
The 18-minute pursuit weaved over to Washington Avenue, where Cruz’s vehicle collided with Merges, a father of two, as he was bicycling near the Manning Boulevard intersection. Even with Merges’ body entangled in the ladder rack of the truck, Cruz sped up and continued his flight from police, investigators said.
The chase moved from the city into neighboring Colonie and then into Niskayuna. From there, Cruz sped into the city of Schenectady and then came to a stop on Curry Road in Rotterdam when his truck’s engine seized up. He was taken into custody after being struck with a Taser.
Investigators believe Cruz had spent the previous day drinking heavily. A pre-screening test conducted after his arrest estimated Cruz’s blood-alcohol content to be 0.14 percent.
Cruz now faces counts of second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree vehicular manslaughter, and two counts of driving while intoxicated, among a slew of other charges lodged in Albany County Court. He also faces charges in Schenectady County, where he is accused of driving his pickup truck at a city police car that was pursuing him during the chase.
At Albany county jail
Cruz has been held without bail in the Albany County Jail since his arrest nearly a year ago. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said Cruz is lodged among the jail’s general population and was even brought in for an evaluation after The Gazette inquired about his well-being.
“He’s fine,” he said Friday. “He’s quiet and we don’t have any issues with him at all.”
Apple acknowledged there’s a different standard applied at the jail than in court. At the jail, Cruz is evaluated to determine whether he’s a danger to himself or others.
Apple said Cruz didn’t appear to pose any issues that would warrant him being brought to the jail’s mental health wing. But he didn’t discount the possibility that Cruz could be found unfit for trial even though the jail has deemed him fit to remain among the general population.
“It’s possible,” he said.