126 MPH Jaunt Leads to Jail

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2006

A Georgetown University law student who was trying to impress his girlfriend admitted yesterday that he cranked up his new Infiniti to 126 mph on the George Washington Memorial Parkway -- among the highest speeds ever clocked on the stretch of federal road.

Drew Hoffman, 28, pleaded guilty to one count of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, and for this he will spend 12 days in jail and a year on probation. His attorney, Jim Clark, said Hoffman "had a new car for the first time in his life, and a great stretch of road at 4 a.m., with no one on it. . . . To say that he is remorseful is a gross understatement."

In a brief interview afterward, Hoffman, an Oklahoma native who lives in the District, said his early morning cruise was "a complete lack of judgment. There is no other explanation."

Sgt. Scott Fear, a U.S. Park Police spokesman, said Hoffman was stopped at 3:55 a.m. on March 12 traveling south on the parkway at Turkey Run Park. He said Hoffman quickly pulled onto a ramp but wound up trapped because the ramp led to CIA headquarters.

"It appeared he was trying to lose the officer real quick," Fear said. "The officer just kind of smiled, knew he couldn't go anywhere and pulled up and got him." Hoffman was arrested and taken to a Park Police station before being released. His girlfriend, who had been a passenger, drove the silver 2006 Infiniti G35 back to the police station.

Prosecutors said in court that they could not recall anyone going faster than 126 mph on the parkway, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry R. Poretz told Hoffman: "In 15 years on the bench, having adjudicated literally thousands and thousands of speeding cases, this is the highest that I've ever had."

Law enforcement officials said later that two motorcycles were clocked last year going 160 mph on the parkway but were never caught. A third motorcyclist going 110 was charged and sentenced to 15 days in jail.

While speeds of more than 100 mph on the parkway are exceedingly rare, officials said they are detecting increasing speeds on highways across the Washington area. That echoes national trends, which have shown higher rates of speed since Congress repealed the national maximum speed limit of 55 in 1995. Since then, 31 states have raised their speed limits to 70 mph or higher, according to the Arlington-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "I think it's more acceptable now to go fast because speed limits are up, we don't see them being enforced as aggressively on highways and we see cars being advertised as having 400 horsepower," said Adrian Lund, the institute's president. "This is sending a message to people who are interested in speeding that maybe it's okay."

Law enforcement officials, hoping to send a message to the public to slow down, were quick to condemn Hoffman for exceeding the 50 mph speed limit by more than 75 mph. "His actions were dumb and dangerous," said Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria. "People die on our roads all the time. We certainly don't need folks hitting 126 mph just to see what their cars can do."

Fear said Hoffman's speed was particularly excessive on the parkway, which winds along the Potomac River with speed limits that range from 25 to 50 mph. "It's a scenic parkway. It wasn't designed to be a superhighway," he said.

Hoffman, wearing a gray business suit with a blue tie, stood before Poretz with his head bowed yesterday and said: "I know I made a mistake. I hope you can see based on my past record that it won't happen again."

The judge fined him $1,200 and said he could not drive a car for the first 60 days of his probation and only on a restricted basis after that. The 12 days in jail could be served on weekends.

"This was an absolute lack of judgment," Poretz said. "You could have killed yourself. You could have killed the other person in the car. You could have killed someone else."

Hoffman wound up in federal court because the 23.5 mile stretch of parkway from Mount Vernon to McLean -- except the part in the city of Alexandria -- is federal land. Fear said Park Police wrote more than 7,000 citations on the parkway last year and that the numbers are rising this year.

The conviction should not affect Hoffman's eligibility to be a lawyer. Asked if he learned anything that would help his legal career, Hoffman said it would enable him to sympathize with clients "who demonstrate that this is out of character."

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