Multiple witnesses saw the chairman of the Prince George’s County liquor board strike two vehicles as he was trying to leave the MGM casino in his car on opening night, injuring at least two people, and a video of the incident shows him having difficulty walking when police encountered him.
Gina Seelig was in the second vehicle that authorities say Charles W. Caldwell III struck late Thursday outside the new MGM casino at National Harbor in Maryland. Seelig, of Arlington, Va., said she started recording cellphone video after the collision, capturing a man in a tuxedo wobbling back and forth next to a police officer. The video, which was taken from inside a car, shows a man in a bow tie and vest nearly falling over and waving his arms, seemingly unable to walk in a straight line. At one point, the man appears to lose his balance and lean into the police officer.
Seelig played the video for a Washington Post reporter but declined to release it for publication.
Caldwell, 72, acknowledged that he consumed alcohol on Thursday night but denied that he was impaired, blaming his unsteady footing on his age and saying that his doctor has been trying to persuade him to use a cane. Seelig and her husband came forward with the video after reading Caldwell’s account.
Prince George’s County police said that they smelled alcohol on Caldwell’s breath and that he refused a breath test. Seelig’s video also appears to be consistent with police accounts indicating that Caldwell failed a field sobriety test. Officers charged the county official with driving under the influence, reckless driving, and other traffic-related violations. Police have not released a traffic report and are still investigating the incident, said Cpl. Lamar Robinson.
According to Seelig’s account, Caldwell was leaving the casino parking garage and was trying to turn onto Monument Avenue when he sideswiped a van. After that impact, Caldwell reversed quickly and with some force, backing into the vehicle in which Seelig was riding, she said.
Seelig said she and three others were waiting in line to enter the casino parking lot when they were jolted by the impact from Caldwell’s vehicle. She got out of the car and beckoned to a police officer to come to the scene, she said.
Seelig did not hear the conversation between officers and Caldwell but began recording when she saw the county official attempting to walk in a straight line. After police left, Seelig said she and the other people in the car went to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, where they were treated for neck and back injuries.
When asked about the recording and Seelig’s account, Caldwell said there was never a third vehicle involved in the crash.
“That’s just not true,” Caldwell said. “I never reversed. There’s no mark on my car. I was sideswiped. . . . We were both trying to occupy the same lane.”
But attorney Michael Herman, who is representing some of the people whose vehicle Caldwell allegedly struck, said he has heard the same account as Seelig’s from his clients. “The facts seem to suggest that he backed up rapidly and, after making impact, attempted to flee the scene,” Herman said.
Herman said the driver from the first collision tried to talk to Caldwell before police arrived and “it appears there was something wrong then. The stories are consistent with alcohol impairment.”
Caldwell, a Republican who was appointed to chair the county board that regulates alcohol sales and liquor licenses, is the second Prince George’s public official to be charged with drunken driving in recent weeks. Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) was charged in late November after rear-ending a stopped vehicle and injuring two people inside. He has declined to comment.
In a statement, Lisa Spicknall of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the organization is “frustrated” by the charges and called on both men to submit to having ignition interlocks installed in their vehicles.
“This is completely unacceptable,” said Spicknall, the Maryland state program director at MADD. “Mr. Caldwell and Councilman Franklin should show that they recognize the seriousness of drunk driving.”