By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
When Arlington police arrived at the crash involving Alexandria Police Chief David P. Baker on Saturday night, an officer smelled a strong odor of alcohol and noticed that Baker's speech was "repetitive and hesitant," according to a criminal complaint.
Baker, who is on administrative leave, failed four field sobriety tests: the nine-step walk and turn, the 30-second leg lift, counting backwards and saying the alphabet, the complaint says.
Just after midnight, about two hours after the accident, Baker took a breath test, which registered a blood alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. The crash sent the other driver to the hospital with whiplash and back pain, authorities said.
Baker, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs 210 pounds, told police that he had two beers about 20 minutes before the accident, the report said. When the arresting officer asked where Baker had been earlier that night, Baker's answer was unclear, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is pending.
Baker, 58, was charged with driving under the influence, a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of as much as $2,500. According to Virginia law, if he is convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.15, he must spend a minimum of five days in jail. His arrest warrant says this was his first offense. He is due in court Wednesday.
City Manager James K. Hartmann placed Baker on administrative leave. He will continue collecting his annual salary of $145,309.
Deputy Police Chief Earl Cook, a 30-year veteran of the department, was named acting chief.
Hartmann ordered an internal investigation, which will be conducted by Alexandria's human resources department and the city attorney's office. He said that he expects the investigation to be complete by the end of the week and that he will probably decide then whether Baker will keep his job.
Hartmann said that Baker's whereabouts before the crash would be part of the investigation but added that Baker had not been at an official city function before the accident.
Baker released this statement to his officers yesterday: "While I can only imagine the disappointment you feel, I want you to know how proud I am of each of you, how privileged I am to work side by side with you and how disappointed and angry I am with myself."
Steve Mason, Hartmann's special assistant, is a close friend of Baker's and has been acting as the family's spokesman.
"He's hurt because of how he feels he let down the men and women of the Alexandria Police Department and the community in general," Mason said.
Mason, who is a senior manager in the city's human resources department, said he has removed himself from the investigation because of his friendship with Baker. City officials confirmed that Mason will not be part of the probe.
Baker's attorney, James Clark, said that Baker is aware that he is the public face of law enforcement in the city, but added that Baker hopes to keep his job.
"A lot of people think it would be an injustice to judge him on the worst half hour of his life and disregard 40 years of exemplary service," Clark said.
The accident occurred near Interstate 66 and North Fairfax Drive in Arlington. Baker, driving a city-issued green Ford Explorer, tried to merge onto I-66. Baker, who was alone in his car, is listed on the accident report as the at-fault driver, authorities said.
Police would not identify the other driver except to say she is a woman. The woman was taken to a hospital for treatment and was released. Officials estimated that each car sustained about $900 in damage.
Baker did not have his police-issued firearm with him because he had been out of town on a beach vacation the previous week and left his pistol locked in his office, authorities said.
Ryan Staab, president of the Alexandria Police Association, a social network of police officers, said the association has always had a good relationship with Baker and stands by him now.
"We support him and his family during this unfortunate incident," Staab said.