Montgomery reaches settlement with ex-official in car crash

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Montgomery County officials have reached an out-of-court settlement with a former assistant fire chief involved in a four-car pileup last year, limiting the possibility that more details will be made public about his condition at the scene of the crash and about police and fire department responses to the incident.

The accident occurred as Gregory J. DeHaven was returning from honor guard duties at a Washington Redskins game about 8 p.m. Nov. 30, 2008. Police said he sideswiped a car, crashed into a police cruiser and hit a vehicle that officers were stopping near the Falls Road interchange on Interstate 270.

The county's personnel board said in a separate review that DeHaven's fire department-owned sport-utility vehicle had been airborne. The board upheld the fire department's decision to dismiss DeHaven, which he appealed.

The settlement, which does not entail any payments to DeHaven, includes an agreement that county records will show that DeHaven retired rather than was dismissed, said a county official with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity. It has been reported that DeHaven was fired in March.

The county's inspector general has continued to raise questions about the case. A report from Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley in October said that Montgomery fire investigators did not interview key witnesses when they looked into the cause of the four-car crash. It also said that investigators did not talk with at least six people who told others that DeHaven, 51, had almost fallen at the accident scene, was slurring his words and smelled of alcohol.

The county's investigations neglected to report that high-ranking department officials were told shortly after the accident that DeHaven had consumed several beers beforehand, the report said.

DeHaven was allowed to leave the crash scene with two fire department officials but did not immediately show up at a county alcohol and drug testing site in nearby Rockville, records show. An officer had told his superiors at the scene that he had smelled alcohol on DeHaven's breath.

County police said they did not administer a breath test after the accident, saying that a roadside sobriety test indicated that DeHaven was not impaired. Tests performed about three hours later at the county's testing site showed that DeHaven's blood-alcohol level was between 0.141 and 0.143. The legal limit is 0.08.

The personnel board said DeHaven and two other fire officials stopped at a 7-Eleven, where one bought a bottle of water for DeHaven. A police review of the case determined that officers did nothing wrong. A fire department review led to DeHaven's dismissal.

County Attorney Leon Rodriguez, who initially had turned down a public records request from The Washington Post seeking information about a possible settlement, revised his response late last week and said that a settlement had been reached, but he did not provide details.

DeHaven, who was eligible to retire, can collect his pension, which county officials said would have been unaffected whether he was fired or allowed to retire.

DeHaven's attorney, John Walsh, did not respond to requests for comment.

Had the county not reached a settlement with DeHaven, a trial could have aired other details about the case, such as DeHaven's allegations to the county personnel board that a county police officer at the scene told DeHaven that if he wanted to challenge a $130 ticket that officers had issued him for failing to control his vehicle, the officer would stay away from the court hearing, allowing DeHaven to win by default.

Officers also agreed to let DeHaven leave the scene without administering a breath test. One of the accident victims told the personnel board that DeHaven needed help standing, smelled of alcohol and asked whether the victim would resolve the case without involving police, which the victim declined to do.

As the inspector general's office has tried to continue its inquiry, it has had to contend with a lawsuit filed by two officers who were at the accident scene. Sgt. Ed Shropshire and Capt. Willie Parker-Loan say that documents sought by the inspector general are personnel files not subject to disclosure to others in county government.

Rodriguez's office is representing Dagley's office and has pushed for disclosure.

Circuit Court Judge Michael D. Mason ruled that the officers' attorney may interview the inspector general to try to determine the scope of his inquiry before deciding whether police must turn over the documents. The next hearing is set for February.

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