Six-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has been charged with drunken driving on Maryland's Eastern Shore, police said yesterday.
Phelps, 19, the swimming sensation who was the most celebrated U.S. athlete at the Summer Games in Athens, was pulled over by a Maryland State Police trooper after driving through a stop sign in Salisbury about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, a police spokesman said.
The spokesman, Maj. Greg Shipley, said the trooper "observed signs" that Phelps, who had two passengers in the car, might have been intoxicated at the wheel of his 2005 Land Rover. Shipley declined to say whether Phelps submitted to a blood alcohol test, citing a policy of not releasing such information.
Phelps, a Baltimore County resident who was introduced to the crowd before kickoff at Sunday's Baltimore Ravens game, was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while impaired by alcohol, violation of a license restriction -- an offense typically filed against a driver younger than 21 who has been drinking -- and failure to obey a stop sign, police said.
"Last week, I made a mistake," Phelps said last night in an interview in which he declined to discuss specifics of the incident. "Getting in a car with anything to drink is wrong, dangerous and unacceptable. I'm 19 but was taught no matter how old you are, you should always take responsibility for your actions, which I will do. I'm extremely sorry for this. . . . That's all I can say right now."
In Athens, Phelps had hoped to match swimmer Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven gold medals, but was one short.
Phelps's coach, Bob Bowman, sounded anguished in a telephone interview from Ann Arbor, Mich., where he has been the head swimming coach at the University of Michigan since Sept. 1. He said Phelps was scheduled to move to Ann Arbor this week and live temporarily with the coach in Bowman's condominium. "I hope we're going to stick with that," Bowman said. "We're planning on him being here."
Phelps declined to say whether he would make the move Thursday. He plans to enter the University of Michigan in January and swim for the university's club team. Phelps cannot swim for Michigan's NCAA swim team because he turned professional in 2001. But he can still train under Bowman, and he has said he already has his eye on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
"It could have been tragic," Bowman said of the incident. He said he was "so happy" that no one was hurt.
Phelps has multimillion-dollar contracts with Speedo, AT&T Wireless and Visa, and he is featured on Wheaties cereal boxes. Bowman said he feared the incident would tarnish the reputation as a champion swimmer and a team player that Phelps earned at the Olympics.
Peter Carlisle, Phelps's agent, did not a return telephone message yesterday seeking comment on the arrest.
"The thing that was so good about Michael this summer was that was who he was; that wasn't an act," Bowman said. "And to have an error in judgment -- even if it was isolated -- that would cast a bad light on that, I just think is unfortunate."
It was unclear yesterday where Phelps and his friends were headed or where they had been. Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis R. Ruark said no court date has been set.
Phelps was released shortly after 1 a.m. Friday, Shipley said. The most serious charge against him, driving under the influence, is punishable by up to a year in jail.
Bowman said that after the Olympics, Phelps, who had been known for years as a highly disciplined athlete, was given a period "to let off some steam."
"I just think it went too far," Bowman said. He added, though, that he thought that the incident was isolated.
"It's not like something he was doing all the time," Bowman said. "I don't think that this is a pattern of behavior or anything like that. He just made a really stupid decision."
Shipley said state police do not release details of drunken driving investigations, including whether a breath test was used.
"This is not just a Michael Phelps thing, this is standard policy," Shipley said.
"Some police departments feel differently, and they put the results out, but this has been a standing policy for us. We don't do that."