Man denies near head-on involving alcohol

Thursday, December 16, 2021

A man has denied a felony charge in connection to a near head-on crash on I-90 involving alcohol.

Lucas Matthew Mergen, 33, appeared in 22nd Judicial District Court last week and pleaded not guilty to one felony count of criminal endangerment and one count of felony DUI (a fourth or higher offense).

Mergen had already posted a $27,000 bond and was allowed to remain free under that bond, under specific courtimposed conditions that include a 10 p.m. curfew unless working.

Deputy Stillwater County Attorney Ryan Addis requested that Mergen not be allowed to drive at all based on his DUI history and the current charges which alleged that Mergen was driving the wrong way on I-90 and nearly caused a head-on crash. Defense attorney Brad Johnson pointed out that Mergen was already wearing a SCRAM unit and that he had been cooperative when arrested. Johnson also said that Mergen’s prior DUIs were a number of years ago, the most recent conviction having occurred approximately six years ago. Mergen’s previous DUI convictions occurred in 2007, 2009, 2013 and 2015, all in South Dakota, according to court documents.

Judge Matt Wald ruled that Mergen can drive only for essential purposes, such as work, and that there will be a “no fail approach” regarding any violations of that.

THE CASE

According to court documents, on Nov. 21, Stillwater County Sheriff’s Deputies Toby Reissig and Bob Brown were dispatched to a report of a car driving the wrong way on I-90 shortly before 3 a.m. The reporting party said that Mergen had been driving west in the westbound lane and then stopped, turned around and began driving east in the westbound lane.

Deputy Reissig was driving in the westbound lane when he saw headlights coming toward him. Reissig slowed down and met a pickup truck being driven by Mergen traveling west in the eastbound passing lane, according to court documents.

The deputy activated his top lights and made a traffic stop on the truck at mile marker 421. The deputy introduced himself and told Mergen why he stopped him, to which Mergen did not verbally respond, but only looked around, according to court documents.

When Deputy Reissig asked Mergen why he was driving down the wrong side of the interstate, Mergen looked confused, looked back out of his driver’s window and replied “no way,” according to court documents. Mergen also denied having consumed any alcohol prior to the stop.

The deputy told Mergen to get out of his truck and when he did so, the deputy noted that Mergen was unbalanced and “stumbled back to the bed of this pickup truck.” Mergen apologized and said he did not think he was driving the wrong way.

Deputy Reissig could see an open beer can in the back seat of the truck and noted that Mergen’s eyes were watery and bloodshot and that he had almost fallen down when he got out of his truck, according to court documents.

At this point, Mergen admitted to having consumed two alcohol drinks.

Deputy Reissig then spoke with the reporting party, who was on scene and said that Mergen “almost killed me right here on the highway” when Mergen’s truck nearly hit him head-on and the reporting party had to swerve onto the shoulder of the road to avoid a crash, according to court documents.

Field sobriety tests indicated Mergen was impaired and a portable breath test (PBT) showed a reading of .263, according to court documents. At the sheriff’s office, Mergen’s BAC was .183, according to court documents.