K-9 search leads to arrest of man who crashed pickup truck leaving one passenger dead, police say

Mitchell K. Merkes

LOWVILLE, Wis. — A successful K-9 search conducted by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office early Friday morning led to the arrest of a 29-year-old man who ran from the scene of a single-vehicle crash that left one man dead.

At 12:03 a.m. Friday the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department received a report of a serious crash on Genrich Road, just west of Hagen Road. According to a news release, 29-year-old Mitchell Merkes was driving a Chevrolet Silverado eastbound on Genrich Road when he reportedly entered the south ditch and hit a mailbox. Law enforcement officials said Merkes over corrected and eventually reentered the ditch while traveling at a high rate of speed.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Department officials said they found Zachary Austin, 31, of Rio, inside the passenger seat of the crashed truck. The Columbia County Medical Examiner’s Office said Austin was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police found skid marks and signs of reckless driving on the roadway, leading them to believe that Merkes was driving recklessly, likely under the influence of alcohol, before the crash.

A subsequent K-9 search helped sheriff’s deputies find Merkes around 2 a.m. hiding in a wooded area about a mile from the crash site.

Merkes was charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle and operating after revocation, causing death. Officials said Merkes had three prior operating under the influence convictions.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the crash. The Rio Fire Department, Rio emergency medical services, UW Med-Flight, Blystones Towing and the Columbia County Medical Examiner’s Office helped at the scene.