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Largo man charged with DUI manslaughter in Holocaust survivor's 2008 death

LARGO — Kathryn Melnick survived five years of beatings and malnutrition as a teenager at the hands of Nazi soldiers at a slave labor camp during World War II.

The Ukraine native immigrated to America, raised a family and ran a chicken farm with her husband in New Jersey, before they settled in Largo in 1974.

At age 83, she still walked miles each day and mowed her own lawn.

Then, just three days before Thanksgiving in 2008, as she walked home after buying holiday cookies for her grandchildren, Melnick was hit by a Honda Civic as she crossed a road.

She died a week later when distraught family members agreed to remove her from life support.

On Tuesday — 17 months after the crash — authorities charged a 54-year-old Largo man with Melnick's death, saying Karl P. Merl was high on marijuana when he hit her Nov. 24, 2008.

"It's been way too long," said Melnick's daughter, Bronnie Fisher. "I'm glad he's where he belongs right now."

Merl was arrested on a warrant at 12:35 a.m. Tuesday at his home at 11511 113th St., No. 4E, on a charge of DUI manslaughter.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, which investigated the accident, Merl was northbound on Oakhurst Road in Largo when he hit Melnick as she crossed near 105th Avenue.

Melnick was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, where she died on Dec. 1.

Melnick had brain injuries and "every bone in her body was broken," said Fisher of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"I will never forget the look in my mother's eyes when we pulled the plug," Fisher said. "That haunts me to this day. I think about it every day."

According to a warrant obtained by the FHP, Merl exhibited signs of impairment after the crash, including that he was "slow in his movements."

A blood sample taken from Merl after the crash came back positive for marijuana, the warrant shows.

In the warrant, the FHP trooper who investigated the crash said he had been unable to locate Merl to arrest him.

And traffic homicide cases can be difficult and time-consuming to bring to conclusion, said an FHP spokesman.

Sgt. Larry Kraus said investigators must wait for toxicology results to come back, which can take weeks or months.

Then there are witness and suspect interviews, discussions with the State Attorney's Office, and several layers of internal review before charges are brought.

"These are serious cases with serious injuries and death. We're not going to rush an investigation," he said. "The minute you start rushing things is when you make a mistake."

Melnick's son, Stanley, said he felt relieved an arrest had been made.

His mother, he said, was very active and in excellent health when she died.

"That's what makes it so hard," he said. "She went through all that, all the tough times, finally to make it here and to have it end the way it did, it's just too traumatic," said Melnick of Largo.

Pinellas court records show Merl was arrested in June 2009 on charges of loitering and prowling and possession of marijuana, but the charges were later dropped.

On Wednesday, he was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Largo man charged with DUI manslaughter in Holocaust survivor's 2008 death 04/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 9:03pm]

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