The deputy commander of the Prince George's division of the Maryland park police, who apparently had been drinking, last week struck a vehicle and wrecked his police cruiser in an off-duty accident in Prince George's County but was not charged in the incident by county police, according to the accident report.
Park police, who assumed jurisdiction of the case from the county, have not yet taken any administrative action against the officer, park police officials said.
County police said that Major Richard L. Belt, deputy to the police chief of the county division of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, was traveling east on Glenn Dale Road near Daisy Lane in Glenn Dale, when the accident occurred at 11:25 p.m. Feb. 23. The accident report states that Belt crossed the dividing line, struck the rear of a Volvo traveling in the opposite lane, then crashed into a telephone pole. No speed estimate was given.
Neither the driver of the Volvo, Alexander Morris Jr. of Seabrook, nor his wife, Cassandra Morris, was injured in the accident, according to the county police officer who filed the accident report. However, Belt, 55, and his passenger, Marianne V. Smith of Lanham, were taken to Prince George's Doctor's Hospital. Belt was uninjured, but Smith, who struck the windshield of the cruiser, was treated for cuts on her face. There was extensive front-end damage to the cruiser, a 1978 Pontiac, according to the investigating officer. No dollar amount of the damage was available.
"The primary cause of the accident was that Belt failed to keep to the right of the center of the roadway," said officer David White, who investigated the accident. White reported that alcohol consumption was the secondary cause of the crash.
White said that when he arrived at the scene of the accident, Belt and Smith had already been taken to the hospital. He spoke to the Morrises and finished his report before going to the hospital where he spoke with Belt, who he knew was a park police officer. "I noticed the odor of an alcoholic beverage on him," White said in a telephone interview, but added that Belt's calm manner convinced him that a sobriety test was not necessary.
Prince George's County police, with other police across the state, have sought publicity in recent months for a campaign to arrest more drunk drivers in response to public pressure.
There is no understanding among local police agencies that officers with traffic violations will be treated differently than other citizens, according to Lt. Col Rice Turner, chief of the county police patrol division.
When White called his supervisor, Sgt. John Perdue, at the Bowie station that night to ask how the matter should be handled, White said they decided that an accident report would be filed, but that Belt would not be charged. They further decided that the matter would be turned over to Belt's commander, Col. Donald Leslie, who had come to the hospital. "It was more or less a professional courtesy to call him Leslie ," White said.
Since there were no charges, the accident will not be reflected in Belt's driving record.
A park police spokesman said that "the matter is presently under investigation . . . if any evidence of wrongdoing is found, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken."
Belt, reached by phone in his office, said that he had been coming to work since the accident. He declined further comment.
Capt. George F. Robinson, commander of the county's district station in Bowie, said that from the report "It's obvious that Belt could have been charged," but that that decision was up to the investigating officer. Robinson said that he had no problem with the decision to defer the matter to park police.