Drunk Drivers Find Pentagon's Maze of Roads Leads Only to U.S. Court
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Just after midnight, a black Honda Element sped toward the Pentagon. The car blew past a stop sign, and when police pulled over the driver, they saw a familiar sight: He was unable to stand without swaying, slurred his speech and reeked of alcohol.
The driver, Michael Songer, 44, had taken a wrong turn at the sprawling Pentagon complex, a maze of roads that has become an unintended -- but highly effective -- snare for drunk drivers in Northern Virginia.
About every other night, someone who shouldn't be behind the wheel inevitably ends up lost among the bewildering streets and parking lots surrounding the country's military headquarters. Many drive from the District to Virginia, get off the highway too soon and find themselves in territory that's unfamiliar and heavily guarded. They're easy to spot, police say.
"Not many people come on the reservation at midnight," said Pentagon police spokesman Chris Layman. "It's pretty obvious when they do, and when they're going the wrong way on a one-way street."
Sometimes, he said, they drive around and around in circles. Or worse, crash into a barrier or curb. Navigating the web of major highways around the Pentagon can be a brainteaser when sober. One wrong turn and you're there. Add alcohol, and motorists barely have a chance.
Already this year, Pentagon police have charged 58 people with drunken driving. Last year, they charged 128 people.
Most arrests are between midnight and 4 a.m., when the complex is virtually empty, and often on Boundary Channel Drive, a straight stretch where lead-footers might be tempted to speed.
Typically, they are people going to and from night spots in such places as Georgetown, Pentagon City and Crystal City. Three of those arrested in the past 15 months work at the Pentagon.
Part of the confusion is that three major roadways -- Interstate 395, Route 110 and Route 27 -- intersect around the building in Arlington County.
When drivers are pulled over at the Pentagon for drunken driving, they're charged with a federal crime because they're on government property. Their cases go to U.S. District Court in Alexandria -- the same courthouse that handled the trials of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and Sept. 11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
In fact, Moussaoui's attorney, Alan Yamamoto, represents many of those charged with drunken driving at the Pentagon. His clients usually have the same account of what happened: "They end up at the Pentagon, and they don't know how they got there," he said.
He can almost recite the story with them.