Murder Mystery: Seattle detectives, family need your help identifying driver of vehicle that hit, killed homeless man

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SEATTLE – Detectives need your help identifying the driver of the vehicle that hit and killed a homeless man.

It happened south of Seattle on 2nd Ave. SW, near where the very first homeless camp called ‘Nickelsville’ was established, not too far from the Duwamish River. In fact, the victim, Merlin Warnick, lived  in the camp at times. He was just 40 years old when he died and police and his family are hoping you can solve this case that serves as a testament to a bigger problem in our community — help for those struggling with addiction and mental illness.

This is a story that begins in White Center, with the birth of a little boy. “His name is Merlin Aubrey Warnick which is two English names for strength, valor integrity,” said Merlin’s mom, Rita.

It’s a story that ends sadly though with the death of the man he grew into. “From all information in that investigation, it appeared to be actually a hit and run accident, tire tracks, so forth. The body, we assume, had been there at least 6 months.” said Ret. Det. Myrle Carner with Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound.

“Mo” as his mom called him was found along the west side of 2nd Ave. SW in Seattle, between the fence line and the roadway. To trace the steps of how Merlin got there though is to share in his parents lifelong struggle to help him. "He didn't mind the dark side of life and I think he felt it exciting," said his father, Chris.

As a  young boy, Merlin excelled intellectually and grew up with no fear. "He was in gifted programs in school but he had an emotional component that was just not mature,” his mom said. And he got bored with school easily. By the time he was 13, he was already in trouble with the law: Arrested with a friend in a stolen car. "I think the takeaway that he got, in my opinion, was, ‘Gee, they didn't kill me. They didn’t take away my birthday. I guess I can survive trouble,’” said his dad. It would become a recurring theme in his life. His parents say he started drinking excessively in his teens. There were multiple rehabs and counseling, nothing worked, then his mom said, “He committed a crime and went to prison right after his 18th birthday so he grew up in prison." Still, his mom and dad did everything they could to show him support. "We made a commitment to him that we would see him at least once a month wherever he was in the state and barring snow and ice, we did."

When Merlin was released his family hoped he'd put his past behind him. "So if you do your time, the thought is you come out,” said his mom. “You can start your life again but the reality is, you cannot."

With his criminal record it was hard to find work. He did okay for a while but then started to slip. "I think he wanted to catch up with his partying that he missed for being in prison for 10 years and I think that got the best of him,” said his dad.

Merlin eventually ended up homeless in Seattle. "His substance abuse was so bad that I can't say there was anything positive there."

On March 1st of last year, several transient people discovered his body. "One of the individuals found a shoe, went down looked at it and found out it had human remains in it,” said Ret. Det. Carner. Detectives think Merlin was the victim of a hit and run that happened in late summer or early fall of 2014.

Now, police  are trying to find anybody who knew him, where he was staying or who he was hanging out with as they work to piece together a time line of what led up this his death. "Maybe you were a witness and you've been carrying this for two years now. Now is the time to come forward. There are people that know about this hit and run. Maybe you were sitting in the vehicle that actually hit this poor victim,” said Carner. Detectives are hoping the public can help them identify the vehicle or driver that killed him.

Merlin’s father is also pleading for the public’s help. "We figured this is the last thing we could probably do to help him get some justice."

Merlin's dad says he always knew it was possible his son could get killed because of the crowd the ran with, but didn't think it was probable until the day the medical examiner called. "These were all street people and people that lived in the “jungle” area down there where he was found. They know him. Somebody knows what happened."

Merlin's mom would like someone to come forward with answers but she's skeptical. She agreed to talk about his death for another reason. "I hope that it draws light that there are other families, thousands of families in the same predicament with siblings, children who are addicted, who have mental health issues, that the laws disfavor people who have issues and if you talk about it, your cast out." A call to action to help people like her son before their life's story ends up like his. "It was just a tragedy. A wasted life."

So again, Seattle Police are looking to talk to anyone who knew Merlin Warnick back in 2014.

It's going to take a tip from you to solve this case. If you have any information, download the P3 Tips App to submit it anonymously, or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. There is a $1,000 reward for information that can identify the driver who killed him.