Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin, who was charged with driving under the influence last week in a crash that injured two people, also damaged another government vehicle on two separate occasions four years ago, according to county records.
Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) totaled a county-owned Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle in a distracted-driving crash in 2012, the records show, two months after banging up the same vehicle in an incident that he did not report to police.
The more serious collision involved Franklin rear-ending a car on the Beltway and resulted in more than $33,000 in repair costs and losses to the government, according to damage reports. Neither crash was reported to the public when it occurred.
Franklin was behind the wheel of another county-issued SUV last week, late on the night of Nov. 21, when he allegedly plowed into the back of a sedan on Pennsylvania Avenue near Forestville. The driver and passenger from the sedan went to the hospital. Police said no one else was in Franklin’s vehicle.
The second-term council member was charged with driving under the influence after state troopers tested him and found he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10, greater than the legal limit of 0.08. Police said Franklin was about 70 yards away from the Ford Explorer, in the median of the roadway, when they arrived at the scene.
Franklin, 41, has not responded to repeated requests for comment. His attorney also declined to answer questions.
In Prince George’s County, lawmakers can be assigned a full-time car from the county’s fleet of vehicles, or seek a travel stipend to cover the cost of driving their own cars on official business. The county vehicles are for work-related travel and incidental personal use.
County Council spokeswoman Karen Campbell said Thursday that because of his driving record, Franklin will no longer have access to the fleet.
The lawmaker was issued an SUV when he was elected to office in 2010, according to Roland Jones, director of the county’s Office of Central Services. On Oct. 5, 2012, he was involved in a crash that damaged the SUV’s front end and grill but was not reported to police. It cost the county about $1,500 to fix the vehicle.
On Dec. 5 of that year, about 7:30 p.m., Franklin slammed the SUV into the back of a GMC Yukon on the Beltway. He told state troopers “he took his eyes off the road for a moment” to change the radio station and did not receive a citation.
The county’s body shop declared the vehicle a “total loss,” which cost the government $33,171.92 to replace, according to documents provided to The Washington Post.
Neither Franklin nor his attorney have said where he was headed at the time of each of the collisions.
Franklin at that point began to use his personal vehicle, Jones said. In May of this year, he asked for a county vehicle and was issued the SUV that was involved in the crash that led to the drunken-driving charge.
Campbell, the council spokeswoman, would not say whether Franklin needed approval to be assigned the SUV.
Franklin isn’t the first Prince George’s elected official to get in trouble while driving a county-owned vehicle. In 2012, council member Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland) was clocked going more than 100 mph on the Beltway and charged with reckless driving. She avoided getting points on her driver’s license by agreeing to be sentenced to probation before judgment after a two-hour trial before Anne Arundel District Court Judge Megan Johnson.
Toles still uses a take-home vehicle, Campbell said, as do council members Andrea C. Harrison (D-Springdale), Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington), Todd M. Turner (D-Bowie) and Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel). Council Chair Derrick Leon Davis (D-Mitchellville), vice-chair Dannielle M. Glaros (D-Riverdale Park) and council member Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi) receive the automobile allowance, Campbell said.
Other Washington-area jurisdictions appear to have more stringent policies on when elected lawmakers can use government vehicles.
Members of the Montgomery County Council drive their own cars and are reimbursed for mileage, officials there said. In Arlington County, board members and the appointed county manager have access to the county’s fleet of vehicles on an as-needed basis, for county business only, spokeswoman Mary Curtius said.
Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors do not have full-time access to vehicles but can reserve a car if needed for government business or work-related trips. The District of Columbia has a pool of two cars and a van that the 13-member council and its staffers share for official business only.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who has a government-issued car and driver, said he has limited the number of people in the executive branch who have access to the fleet. He added that his administration does not police the council.
“It’s clearly within their purview to make the rules,” Baker said. “I think they’ll look at the policies now and see if they need to be changed.”
Lynh Bui, Peter Jamison, Antonio Olivo, Patricia Sullivan and Bill Turque contributed to this report.