Spokane Valley City Council Candidate Al Merkel is facing a charge of driving drunk after police say he crashed his car into a group of boulders last month.
Merkel, 33, is running against incumbent Councilman Arne Woodard, accountant Lance Gurel and martial arts academy owner Adam Smith in the Aug. 6 primary.
Merkel is accused of crashing his 2017 Subaru WRX into a group of boulders on the edge of a lawn on North Ella Road in the early hours of Saturday, May 4, according to reports from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. After someone called 911 to report a hit and run, officers found Merkel several blocks away at Park Road and Indiana Avenue around 2:15 a.m. Airbags in his Subaru airbags were deployed and the car engine was smoking, but he told officers he was not injured.
Merkel and the woman who was with him exited the Subaru and deputies handcuffed Merkel, according to the documents. The woman told deputies that Merkel had offered her a ride home from a bar.
Officers said Merkel smelled of alcohol, seemed confused and had slurred speech. He was transported to the Spokane Valley Police station where he took several breath tests. His blood alcohol level was about 0.12.
Merkel was cited for a DUI, but was not booked into jail.
The North Ella Road homeowner told deputies he didn’t want to press charges against Merkel because the crash did not cause damage to his property.
Merkel has pleaded not guilty.
Merkel declined to comment on the details of DUI because the case is ongoing, but said he respected and supported the work of the Spokane Valley Police Department. The police department is run by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office under contract approved by the Spokane Valley City Council.
Steven Clark, Merkel’s attorney, said the case was pending and declined to discuss details of the case.
“He has a presumption of innocence just like everybody else,” Clark said.
Merkel is a former contracting officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He finished third when he ran in the Spokane Valley City Council primary against incumbent Rod Higgins in 2017.
In the 2019 race, Merkel has raised about $600 for his council race as of Monday, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Gurel has raised about $7,100, and Woodard has raised about $12,600.
Smith, 29, also has faced legal challenges. He pleaded guilty to driving without a license, driving without insurance and not renewing his tabs and failing to transfer registration, as well as disorderly conduct.
Most of his tickets are still open from when he was pulled over in 2010 and 2011, a time when Smith said he was struggling with his finances and wasn’t able to afford insurance or registration. He said he is still making monthly payments on them now. He said he also kept driving without insurance, or registration, because he needed to get to work.
“I’ve made mistakes in the past,” he said. “But I’ve been a great community leader and everybody makes mistakes.”
He said he was charged with disorderly conduct in December 2017 after a disagreement with a business partner. Smith said he went to the business partner’s home and knocked on the door hard enough to damage it. His former business partner pursued charges. Smith pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Smith, a professional mixed martial arts fighter, said he did not think getting speeding tickets or struggling to pay for his tabs and insurance during a difficult period of his life should disqualify him from serving on the city council. He said many people who live in Spokane Valley will also likely be able to relate to having traffic violations or struggling with finances.
“I don’t think there are a lot of people on council that can relate to having to choose between feeding themselves and having to pay off a ticket so they don’t get another ticket,” Smith said.
Smith, who is a first-time political candidate, is a Spokane Fire District 4 firefighter and owner of Spokane Valley Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 to correct the spelling of Arne Woodard.
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