- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

Alexandria police Chief David P. Baker, who was arrested Saturday night on a DUI charge, was placed on administrative leave Sunday, and his purported .19 blood alcohol content means the consequences may be just beginning — mandatory jail time, loss of driver’s license and possible lawsuits against the city.

Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartmann imposed the immediate sanction on Chief Baker pending an internal investigation of the arrest in a late-night two-car crash Saturday in Arlington that sent both drivers to the hospital.

Mr. Hartmann elevated Deputy Police Chief Earl Cook to acting police chief, effective immediately.

According to Arlington County police, Chief Baker, who has held his post for three years and served almost 20 years in the department, took a Breathalyzer test that registered his blood alcohol content (BAC) at .19, more than twice Virginia’s legal limit of .08.

The chief faces serious consequences under Virginia’s tough drunken-driving laws, including up to 12 months in jail, a one-year suspension of his driver’s license and mandatory alcohol safety classes.

“It’s a high BAC accident with injuries caused by an allegedly drunk driver in a state that’s serious about drunk driving, that’s caused by a law enforcement officer,” said Thad Furlong, a retired police officer now working with Bose Law Firm LLC, which specializes in drunken-driving cases. “I would say that’s the perfect storm.”

Because Chief Baker is accused of blowing above .15 BAC — Virginia’s threshold for a series of stiffer penalties — any guilty verdict will require him to serve five days in jail, pay a $250 fine and lose his license for 12 months, Mr. Furlong said.

A blood alcohol content of .19 would leave most people “seriously impaired” and would indicate that the person did not simply misjudge his alcohol tolerance, said the lawyer, who is not officially involved in the case.

“You would most likely feel it. It’s not like you’re walking around with a warm glow,” Mr. Furlong said.

The two-car accident, in which Chief Baker was driving an unmarked city-issued Ford Explorer, took place at the 4700 block of North Fairfax Drive, near an on-ramp to Interstate 66, said Detective Crystal Nosal, an Arlington police spokeswoman.

The city of Alexandria could be sued by the other vehicle’s driver for damages if it is determined that Chief Baker was using the government-issued car in the crash on official business, Mr. Furlong said.

The driver was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and released. Police did not release information about the other driver.

If the results of the Breathalyzer test hold up in court, Chief Baker will have to attend mandatory Alcohol Safety Action Program classes to determine whether he has a pattern of drinking excessively.

Even after a convicted Chief Baker would become eligible to have his license restored, the license would have as a condition for a further six months that he drive only vehicles equipped with ignition-interlock devices. These electronic gadgets prevent the car from being started unless the driver blows into a tube that determines whether he or she is legally intoxicated.

Chief Baker coordinated a sobriety checkpoint for Alexandria in June, and alerted drivers in a press release about the stiff penalties faced for being charged with driving under the influence.

“This is a sad day for us,” Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said at a Sunday press conference surrounded by other city officials, including Mr. Hartmann and the interim chief.

“It’s very disappointing, obviously, when any of our colleagues makes a bad decision that comes to a conclusion such as this,” Mr. Hartmann said.

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