Karen Toles, Prince George’s council member, charged with reckless driving

March 6, 2012

Prince George’s County police on Tuesday reversed a controversial decision and charged council member Karen R. Toles with reckless driving for allegedly traveling on the Beltway at more than 100 mph.

Police said they think they can prove that Toles showed a “wanton disregard for safety” when an officer spotted her speeding.

The new charge — which carries a $510 fine and six-point license penalty — is significantly more serious than what the council member had faced initially. Her driving privileges could also be suspended. In the past two years, Toles (D-Suitland) has been convicted of driving off the roadway while passing a vehicle and unsafe lane change — violations which carry penalties of one point each. A reckless driving conviction would push Toles’s total above eight points and initiate the process to suspend her license, according to authorities and court records.

“I take no pleasure in this additional action but know it is the right thing to do for our county,” Prince George’s Police Chief Mark Magaw said at a news conference Tuesday.

The reckless driving charge stems from a Feb. 22 incident in which a Prince George’s police officer saw Toles’s county-issued Ford Edge traveling southbound on the Capital Beltway, law enforcement officials have said. The sport-utility vehicle veered across several lanes of traffic as it drove toward the exit for Branch Avenue, the sources said.


Karen Renee Toles (Mark Gail/WASHINGTON POST)

The officer turned on his lights and sirens and followed Toles, law enforcement sources have said. As he did, his cruiser camera showed him going as fast as 108 mph, the officials have said.

The officer gave Toles a ticket for making an unsafe lane change and a warning for speeding, the officials have said. The unsafe lane-change ticket carries a $90 fine and a one-point license penalty.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because commanders are reviewing the incident.

Last week, police defended the officer’s actions, saying that he had no radar gun to determine Toles’s exact speed and that the equipment in his cruiser was not properly calibrated because he normally works in an administrative job. They said that while the officer had to speed to catch Toles, he did not have enough time or space to determine her pace.

Magaw repeated those defenses Tuesday and said that issuing the unsafe lane-change ticket was “adequate.” But he said a review panel of police commanders, the department’s inspector general and Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks determined that the reckless driving citation was warranted “given the totality of the circumstances” — even if the exact speed could not be proved.

“The review panel had hindsight,” Magaw said. “They had all the information. They had to go through everything.”

Magaw said that he was present when officials gave Toles, who has been active in pushing public safety legislation, the new ticket in her attorney’s office and that “she was fine.” Toles’s voice mail was full, and she did not return an e-mail message seeking comment. Rosalyn E. Pugh, her attorney, issued a written statement Tuesday declining to comment on the new charge.

Toles has previously said in statements that she was late for an appointment the day she was pulled over and that she intended to pay the fine. She said she would not drive a county-owned vehicle until she completed a driver improvement course.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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