D.C. police are investigating a civilian employee who allegedly took an unmarked car, drove it out of town and had to have it towed back after a tree fell on it.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said Lundu T. Washington, an executive assistant to Eric Coard, senior executive director for corporate support, allegedly took the Crown Victoria one weekend two months ago and drove to Baltimore. Sometime during her trip, a tree fell onto the car.

"How's that for bad luck?" Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer said. "It wasn't very smart."

Washington allegedly took the car keys from a locked office to which she had access, Ramsey said yesterday. The vehicle was issued to Coard's unit.

"She took it without permission," Ramsey said. "What she did was wrong. It's just not allowed."

Ramsey said he learned about the theft and the accident the following day and ordered an investigation. It is unclear how much damage was done to the vehicle.

Police sources said Washington has taken department-issued cars on other occasions, usually at night or on the weekends when most staffers are gone.

"This is obviously an incident where she got caught," Ramsey said. "It could result in her firing."

Washington, who has been with the department since September 1997, has been placed on administrative leave without pay pending the outcome of the investigation, Ramsey said. She could not be reached for comment.

Coard declined to discuss the matter.

Ramsey said the department's disciplinary review office is evaluating the case. It then will be sent to an independent board with the chief or his designee handing down the final disciplinary action.

Three years ago, a senior District official was investigated for taking a city car and going to Baltimore for an overnight visit to a relative's house for New Year's Eve. In that instance, the vehicle was stolen. The woman said at the time that although she didn't have written permission, her boss gave her 24-hour driving privileges.