A former D.C. police traffic detective, demoted after questions arose about his handling of several high-profile fatal traffic accident investigations, has been placed on leave after allegedly showing up for work intoxicated, law enforcement sources said yesterday.

Officer Milton James, 52, reported to the 3rd District police station for patrol duty two weeks ago after allegedly drinking alcohol, police officials said. A supervisor was notified and James was sent home.

James was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an investigation by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, said Chief Charles H. Ramsey. James was ordered to undergo alcohol counseling to "try and get . . . squared away," a source said.

Third District Cmdr. Jose Acosta said the matter was a personnel issue and declined to discuss it. He said, however, that he holds "everyone to high standards and will take action" against any officer who shows unprofessionalism.

James could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Asked about reports that he plans to fire James, Ramsey said yesterday: "I've got to read the facts of the case. Certainly, I take this as a very, very serious matter."

James, a 28-year member of the department, was one of three detectives assigned to investigate traffic fatalities. He was demoted to a station clerk in May after reports that he botched several crash cases, including the highly publicized hit-and-run death of American University freshman Matthew O'Dell, who was killed in January while roller-blading with a friend along Nebraska Avenue NW. James was later transferred to the 3rd District in Northwest.

James has handled five dozen traffic investigations during his career. But some of his recent his work has been questioned, particularly after O'Dell's death. Jeremy Woodrum, the friend with O'Dell at the time of the accident and the only known eyewitness, said James cut him off as he was explaining what happened. He also said James didn't return his telephone calls. Evidence collected from that case sat for nearly two weeks before it was forwarded to the FBI lab for analysis.

The department launched a review of James after federal prosecutors complained that he bungled other cases, including losing track of a car and mishandling evidence in an Oct. 7, 1998, accident that killed a deaf pedestrian in Northeast Washington.