Deadly chase detailed at trial
Cruz faces life in prison in cyclist’s death
ALBANY Pablo Cruz’ speeding pickup truck plowed into bicyclist Paul Merges in the early hours of Nov. 24, 2012, in Albany, with Merges’ head smashing Cruz’ windshield, a prosecutor told an Albany County Court jury Tuesday.
Merges’ leg then got caught in the ladder rack of the truck, with his body hanging over the side for anyone to see, but Cruz, drunk and fleeing a police traffic stop, did not stop to get Merges help, prosecutor Mary Tanner-Richter told the jury.
“The defendant chose to keep driving,” Tanner-Richter told the jury. “He chose to keep driving even though Paul Merges Jr., his leg got entangled into that ladder rack. The defendant chose to keep driving even though Paul’s body was slumped over the passenger side of that truck, facing into that truck.”
Merges’ body was fully visible to Cruz, she told the jury. “The defendant never stopped,” she said.
Cruz, 41, of Schenectady, is standing trial on multiple counts related to the chase and the death of Merges, 45, of Albany. The top count is second-degree murder, under the theory that Cruz’ actions were so depraved they rose to that level.
Cruz also faces manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide counts, among other charges. If convicted of the top count, he faces up to 25 years to life in prison.
Cruz only stopped when his truck gave out, the prosecutor said. The impact with Merges’ bike had severed an oil line, and the truck seized up on Curry Road in Rotterdam, Tanner-Richter explained. Cruz lived at the time on Helderberg Avenue in Schenectady. The chase continued for about 20 minutes after Merges was hit, she said.
Even when the truck finally stopped, Cruz did not get out willingly, the prosecutor said; he had to be shocked with Tasers multiple times to be subdued.
Tanner-Richter also told the jury they will see video of portions of the chase, but not the impact.
Cruz’ attorney, Michael Feit, gave a different account. He called the accident a tragedy, but not avoidable. It most certainly was not murder, he said.
Feit outlined how much time Cruz had to react to Merges on his bicycle. Noting Cruz’ estimated speed of 51 mph, Feit said Cruz couldn’t see Merges until he was an estimated 25 feet away.
But Feit did not mention that Cruz was speeding in a residential area at 1 a.m. when the accident occurred, as prosecutors claim. Feit also did not address the prosecution’s contention that Cruz was drunk.
He told the jury to focus on what happened before and after the impact. Cruz did not hit anyone else or anything else.
Cruz fled the initial traffic stop, Feit said, because the cruiser was unmarked. He later did not get out of the truck because guns were drawn on him.
While the prosecutor said Merges was riding in the bike lane on Manning Boulevard, Feit questioned that. He told the jury Merges’ autopsy showed he was riding his bike drunk. Merges’ blood-alcohol content was more than twice the limit to drive a car, he claimed.
“I think, if you look carefully at the evidence in this case, you will find that the people fail to meet their burden of proof,” Feit told the jury, “and you will find that verdicts of not guilty are just.”
Tanner-Richter argued Cruz was driving with depraved indifference to human life long before he encountered Merges. He was driving 90 mph in a 40 mph zone on Central Avenue, then at least 51 in a 30 mph zone at the time of impact.
Cruz went through traffic lights and stop signs and crossed a double yellow line on Manning Boulevard, where he struck Merges, police said.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Terry-Richter told the jury, “Paul Merges never had a chance.”
The prosecutor said blood tests performed on Cruz one hour later showed his blood alcohol level at 0.1 percent, more than the legal limit to drive of .08.
Cruz had only recently been released from prison on a drug-related conviction when the chase occurred.