David Earl Fleming, a convicted murderer and drunk driver who allegedly defied a court order forbidding him ever to drive, would not have been arrested Wednesday if an alert police officer had not recognized his name on a report, according to court documents.
Fleming, charged with driving while intoxicated Nov. 9, was using an apparently valid Virginia driver's license and was not jailed that day, Maj. Richard Cusick of the U.S. Park Police said yesterday. A police computer check at the time of the citation did not reveal Fleming's convictions on a second-degree murder charge from a drunk-driving accident and three previous drunk-driving cases, Cusick added.
But while Park Police Sgt. Gregory J. Higgins was processing the records of Fleming's case this week, he remembered that Fleming, a Fairfax County carpenter, had been involved in a 1983 crash that killed a 55-year-old Fairfax mother of 11. Higgins began a series of checks that led to Fleming's arrest Wednesday on a charge of driving on a revoked license.
It remained unclear yesterday how Fleming had obtained a Virginia driver's license despite the court order, and why the Park Police computer check Nov. 9 had indicated Fleming's driving record was clean. Officials said the revocation should have appeared in state motor vehicle records.
A source who asked not to be identified said yesterday that Fleming had received a Virginia license after he was released from prison. The source said that Virginia officials may not have been notified by the federal court that Fleming's driving privileges had been permanently revoked.
In June 1983, Fleming was driving 80 miles an hour down the wrong side of the George Washington Parkway during rush hour when he crashed head-on into a car driven by Margaret Haley. Haley, returning from her job as a volunteer at a Catholic church, was killed instantly.
At the time of the crash, Fleming's blood alcohol content was 0.315 percent. Under Virginia law, anyone whose blood alcohol content is more than 0.10 percent is automatically convicted of drunk driving. A federal judge sentenced Fleming to 4 1/2 years in prison and ordered that his driver's license be permanently revoked.
According to federal prison officials, Fleming was in prison from February 1984 until January 1986, and then spent three months in a halfway house.
Nancy Saunders, driver improvement division manager for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said that under state law she could not disclose whether Fleming had been issued a Virginia driver's license. But she said that anyone whose license had been revoked could not obtain a new one without passing a computer background check and lying on the license application.
Saunders said that application forms for state driver's licenses ask whether a person's license has been suspended or revoked, and that if the person answers yes, a license is not issued.
Saunders also said that Viginia checks all applications for new licenses through the National Driver Register, a service that maintains computerized records of driving violations across the country. If that check turns up violations that the applicant did not report, she said, no license is issued.
Fleming was being held without bond yesterday and a custody hearing is to be held this afternoon in U.S. Magistrate's Court. His court-appointed lawyer, Richard Mendelson, declined to comment on the case.
Fleming, 60, was seriously injured in the 1983 fatal crash and appeared in a television documentary two years ago walking with crutches. He made a brief appearance in Magistrate's Court yesterday in a wheel chair.