The chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has been charged with a misdemeanor count of hit and run for leaving the scene of an accident Friday in the Tysons Corner area, Fairfax police said yesterday.
Gerald E. Connolly (D), 54, said he was unaware that he had been in a collision when he drove away from International Drive and Route 123. But the other driver, identified by police as Lewis M. Pfister, 41, of Ashburn, jotted down the license plate of Connolly's 2003 Toyota Camry and called police.
Of the two left-turn lanes on southbound International Drive, police said Pfister's 2003 Ford Explorer was in the one on the left and Connolly's Camry was in the one on the right. Police said Connolly started to move his Camry into the left lane and stalled.
Connolly said that he heard the screeching of the Explorer's brakes and heard the driver honk but that he did not hear or feel any impact to his car.
Pfister's wife and child were in the Explorer at the time. The Pfisters declined to comment yesterday.
A police officer visited Connolly's home Saturday to inspect the damage to his car, and Connolly said that was the first time he realized he'd been in an accident.
The Camry had a small but noticeable dent in the panel in front of the left front wheel. Police estimated the damage to Connolly's car at $300 and the damage to the Pfisters' vehicle at $200.
Virginia law classifies leaving the scene of an accident, or hit and run, as a felony if a person is injured or killed or if property damage of more than $1,000 results. The case is a misdemeanor if the accident involves only property damage of less than $1,000.
Connolly said he was "saddened that a minor fender bender, that I was completely unaware of, has taken this turn. But it has, and we'll let the process take its course."
Eric A. Lundberg, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, said he suspected that police went easy on Connolly because of his political position. Lundberg said Connolly should have been charged with a felony, because the damage to both vehicles was likely more than $1,000. And if convicted of a felony, Lundberg noted, Connolly would be subject to removal from office.
Mary Ann Jennings, the Fairfax police spokeswoman, said police handled Connolly's case somewhat differently by assigning a second, veteran investigator to review the case. He reinterviewed both drivers and examined both vehicles.
"We added the extra layer to satisfy ourselves that any charge that came out of the investigation was appropriate," Jennings said. She said the second investigator "recommended that the misdemeanor charge be filed, and we did that."