Report: Senior Montgomery Fire Official Was Over Blood-Alcohol Limit After Crash

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A senior Montgomery County fire official who collided with three cars in November while driving a county vehicle had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit almost three hours after the crash, according to a confidential fire department report.

The report appears to lend credence to the account of a rookie police officer who said Assistant Chief Gregory J. DeHaven smelled of alcohol at the scene, on the Interstate 270 entrance ramp near Falls Road. Two senior police officers arrived a short time later, administered a sobriety test by tracking DeHaven's eye movements and concluded that he was not impaired.

Police did not administer a breathalyzer test. DeHaven, however, later submitted to a breathalyzer at a county-run medical facility. The test was required by personnel rules because he was driving a county vehicle in a crash that caused more than $2,500 in property damage. Fire officials have declined to release the results.

The report obtained by The Washington Post shows that DeHaven's blood alcohol was recorded at 0.141 at 10:53 p.m. About 15 minutes later, another test put the level at 0.143.

DeHaven disputed the results in a statement last night, alleging through a spokesman that a "technician incorrectly entered test results" in the report.

The report shows DeHaven's signature in a section acknowledging that the result was positive and was recorded correctly. The spokesman, I.J. Hudson, declined to elaborate.

The statement also said that DeHaven has been notified of his "dismissal" and that his last day will be March 31. It complains that he is being treated "like a problem employee instead of an employee with a problem."

"There is no question that I made a mistake, but the county has violated its own procedures in the way my case has been handled," the statement quoted DeHaven as saying. "This was a one-time incident, and I believe I should have been treated like other people in this situation -- given the benefit of doubt and offered options, including allowing me to stay with the county in some capacity."

Maryland drivers whose blood alcohol level is 0.07 can be charged with driving while impaired. Drivers who register at least 0.08 can be charged with driving under the influence.

DeHaven, 50, was charged with failing to control his vehicle and paid a $130 fine. Officials placed him on desk duty after the incident and on paid leave Feb. 9.

Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said yesterday that an internal investigation into his department's handling of the incident will determine if "my folks did what they were supposed to do." He said he expects the review to be completed in a few weeks.

Acting Fire Chief Richard Bowers said he could not discuss DeHaven's status, except to say that he remains on the payroll. Bowers said he expects that his agency will soon conclude a review examining the actions of other department members in the DeHaven case.

About 8 p.m. Nov. 30, DeHaven, who was returning from honor guard duties at a Washington Redskins game, sideswiped a car and crashed into a police car and then a vehicle that the police car was stopping, police have said.

Senior police officers and several senior fire officials converged on the scene of the accident. At least one fire official escorted DeHaven to the county-run medical facility in Rockville, as is required by department regulations.

The confidential fire department report does not explain why nearly three hours passed before DeHaven was tested.

The accident caused substantial property damage, according to insurance and county documents. The fire vehicle that DeHaven was driving, a 2001 Ford sport-utility vehicle, was totaled, and the police vehicle, a 2006 Chevrolet SUV, suffered about $2,800 in damage. A 2007 BMW suffered about $8,000 in damage.

In addition, a passenger in the BMW has told county officials that she was injured in the crash and intends to sue the county.

The fire and rescue service hired an outside contractor to examine the incident. Early last month, the contractor submitted a report to Bowers. Bowers has declined to describe the contents of the report or make a copy of it available.

The statement said DeHaven has retained a lawyer and will challenge his dismissal. "I put in 28 years of exemplary service with the Fire and Rescue Service," it quoted DeHaven as saying. "Apparently, that doesn't count for much. I feel as though I've been singled out -- that the County just wants to get rid of me."

Thomas J. Dagley, Montgomery's independent inspector general, is also reviewing the incident. Dagley said his office was awaiting reports from the county's senior managers before concluding its investigation.

"Our review of the accident itself and how it has been reported will not be completed before management's internal investigations are finished," he said.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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