By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009
Alexandria Police Chief David P. Baker is on administrative leave after a car crash in Arlington County late Saturday led to his arrest on charges of drunken driving.
Baker, who was driving an unmarked city vehicle, had a blood alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice Virginia's legal limit, authorities said.
City Manager James K. Hartmann ordered an internal investigation into the incident, which will be conducted by Alexandria's human resources department and the city attorney's office.
Deputy Police Chief Earl Cook, a 30-year veteran of the department, was named acting chief.
"It is very disappointing when any of our colleagues makes a bad decision," Hartmann said at a news conference Sunday. He said that although he has the authority to fire Baker immediately, he will await the findings of the internal review, which are expected within a week.
Baker, 58, is the second high-ranking Alexandria city official to be arrested for drunken driving in recent years. Rebecca L. Perry, then-superintendent of schools, was arrested on the charge in 2004 and was allowed to keep her position.
Baker's accident occurred about 11 p.m. Saturday near Interstate 66 and North Fairfax Drive in Arlington. It happened as Baker, driving a city-issued green Ford Explorer, tried to merge onto I-66, said Detective Crystal Nosal, an Arlington police spokeswoman. Nosal said that Baker, who was alone in his car, is listed on the accident report as the at-fault driver.
Nosal would not identify the other driver except to say she is a woman whose injuries included "whiplash, neck or back pain." The woman was taken to a hospital for treatment and released. Officials estimated that each car sustained $900 in damage.
Baker has been with the Alexandria department for 19 years. Before becoming chief, he was the department's second-in-command for 16 years. Before that, he worked for the D.C. police department for 21 years. When he left the D.C. police force in 1991, he was in charge of the traffic enforcement division.
Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D) said that before Saturday night, there were "no blemishes" on Baker's record. "He's highly respected," Euille said.
But he added that the police chief should lead by example and said that the officers who work under Baker "don't want their chief to be in an embarrassing situation like this."
Authorities said that the Explorer Baker drove was a loaner from the city because his city-issued car was being repaired. The chief, police said, cooperated as he was arrested and was processed through the normal booking procedures. He was released with no bail and faces arraignment Wednesday. According to Virginia law, if convicted, Baker would face a minimum five days in jail because his blood alcohol level was above 0.15.
Cook, the acting chief, is an Alexandria native who competed with Baker for the chief's job three years ago. The two men, who are friends, spoke by phone Sunday. Cook said he spoke with some rank-and-file officers Sunday morning during roll call. He said he will try to reach out to all of the department's 480 members in the coming days.
"Chief Baker is personally devastated," Cook said. "The reaction among the troops has been surprise and also concern for the chief."
Alexandria Sheriff Dana A. Lawhorne said he has worked with Baker for about 20 years and has never seen him impaired. "He's always physically and mentally fit," Lawhorne said. "He prides himself on that."
Baker did not return a call seeking comment Sunday.
Hartmann, the city manager, said that after the investigation is completed he will make his decision and publicly explain the outcome.
"I'll have to justify it to my community and to everyone else," Hartmann said.