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Drunk Driving Hits Close to Home

Mount Vernon officers hit by drunk drivers and top DWI officer discusses DWI cases.

Officer David Koenigsburg was named Officer of the Month for November, 2005 by second Lt. Michael Connor and Sgt. Timothy Settle for outstanding work on two particular cases.

The first was an investigation into a drug house where Koenigsburg conducted surveillance, developed informants and facilitated arrests.

The second occurred on Nov. 19 when Koenigsburg made a traffic stop for a cracked window. During routine questioning of the driver Koenigsburg noticed that the driver was nervous—his hands were trembling and he was sweating.

Koenigsburg noticed an open container and also smelled marijuana. He called for backup and a quick check of the car revealed a black bag with plastic baggies, a scale and traces of marijuana. He handcuffed the driver and with another officer, conducted a full search of the car. They found a loaded gun with a 30 magazine clip in the bag. A second gun was found under the driver’s seat.

Because of the strong smell of marijuana, Koenigsburg felt there was significant marijuana in the car, but a search by a K-9 unit found only trace amounts.

Koenigsburg arrested the man and took him and the evidence to the station. The man confessed to the weapons and identified where he had gotten them.

This whole process took eight hours and was well past Koenigsburg’s quitting time, yet he was still convinced that there was more marijuana. After checking the black bag further, he discovered a hidden zipper pocket containing more than 20 baggies of marijuana, approximately a half-ounce of crack cocaine and 20 ecstasy pills.

Koenigsburg was able to charge the man, a prior felon, with seven felonies and five misdemeanors.

ANOTHER SIDEBAR:

AX11214-481

<pc>Photo by Gale Curcio/Gazette

<cl>PFC Keith J. Baker was one of several Mount Vernon District officers who were honored at the meritorious awards and promotions ceremony held at the Fairfax County Government Center on Dec. 6.

<sh>Mount Vernon District Officers Honored at Fairfax County Awards Ceremony

<bt>Mount Vernon District was well represented earlier this month when Mount Vernon District Police officers received nine of the 33 awards presented at the Meritorious Awards and Promotions Ceremony that was held at the Fairfax County Government Center on Dec. 6.

Honored were: PFC Keith J. Baker, MPO Robert L. Prenn II, PFC Clifford L. Armstrong, PFC Todd W. Billeb, PFC Daniel M. Griffith, PFC David J. Plaska, Detective Kevin Clarke, PFC Alden Goodger and PCA Shannon Turner.

Baker was honored for his investigation of a domestic homicide in Franconia. Capt. Mike Kline, commander, Mount Vernon District Station, said that even though it was time for Baker to go home, he positioned himself in a spot where he could catch the perpetrator. After hearing the alert, Baker stationed himself where he could monitor traffic on Route 1. When he spotted the car with a matching description, he called for backup and organized a traffic stop.

OTHER SIDEBAR:

<ro>Cost of Too Much Holiday Partying

<1st>

Posting Bail, $500-$2500

Car Towed, $150

Restricted License, $120

Hiring Attorney, $1000-$4000

Court Fines/Cost, $250-$2500

Alcohol Education Class, $300-$1000

Insurance Increase, $1000-$2000

Overnight Stay in the “Blue Bar Motel,” Embarrassing

<48hd>Drunk Driving Hits Close to Home

<sh>Mount Vernon officers hit by drunk drivers and top DWI officer discusses DWI cases.

<1b>By Gale Curcio

<2b>Gazette

<bt>In February, second Lt. Randy Hargus was severely injured when he was struck by a drunk driver. He lived to tell about it and pushed himself hard to get back to work—three months ahead of schedule.

In November, Hargus received the Theodore Roosevelt Police Award; an award given to officers who have overcome an adversity, whether injury, illness or other disability.

At this week’s Mount Vernon Citizens Advisory Committee, Capt. Mike Kline, commander of the Mount Vernon District Station, spoke about why he nominated Hargus. Kline said that when he saw Hargus in the hospital, even though he was in horrible pain, he was still worried about getting back to his squad.

“He worked very hard and had several surgeries,” Kline said. “They said that he would be out six to nine months, but he told me he was ready to come back after three months.”

Kline was so surprised when he heard Hargus was coming back that he checked with the occupational therapist to ensure that he was really ready to return to work. The therapist told Kline no one had ever put out so much effort.

While Kline is pleased with the award, he said, “If I never have to nominate another officer from Mount Vernon [for this award], I’ll be happy.”

Hargus was thankful for the cards and prayers he received.

"Thank you for taking the time to be involved," he said.

Also honored at the meeting was Officer Brandon McAleese. His police cruiser was t-boned by a drunk driver earlier this year and Fire Department technicians had to cut him out of the car. Both his police vest and seatbelt are credited with saving his life, and he received the “Saved By the Belt” award.

IT WAS FITTING THAT the guest speaker for the committee's meeting was Officer Angela Linden. The officer with the most DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) arrests in the Mount Vernon District, Linden has only lost two out of almost a hundred cases she has pursued over the past three years.

The reason for her success is her thoroughness. She realizes how hard the cases are to prove and makes sure that she documents even the smallest detail. Linden said that thousands of dollars are spent trying to win DWI cases because while it is only a Class I Misdemeanor, it is very embarrassing. She said the offense affects all levels and all races, pointing out that even President George W. Bush was once arrested for a DWI.

Linden explained the procedure involved in identifying, stopping and arresting a person for DWI. It is a lengthy process and can take an officer anywhere from two to four hours. Kline said that he encourages his officers, especially on the midnight shift, to pursue charges even if is sometimes keeps officers from being able to make duty calls.

“It’s very serious and our officers do a good job of getting them off the streets,” Kline said. “It takes a long time to process and we sometimes get heat … but it’s very important.”

Linden said the first clue that a driver has been drinking is their driving behavior. She will start to follow somebody if they are swerving, weaving, driving too fast or too slow, driving on a flat tire, driving with no headlights, driving on the wrong side of the road, or going through a red light.

She will then activate the emergency lights on the cruiser and continue to observe their behavior when they realize that they are being pulled over.

“I look for sudden braking or swerving,” she said.

ONCE SHE MAKES CONTACT with the driver, she will observe his physical appearance. She checks for odor, bloodshot eyes, blank stare or slurred speech. She will ask if they know what time it is and where they are. She’s had people tell her that they think they are in Prince George's County. Sometimes Linden will use a “sniffer” flashlight, a device that indicates if a person has been drinking.

From there, Linden said she starts administering the sobriety tests. The ones she most commonly uses are the alphabet, one-legged stand; and walk and turn tests. Less commonly used are the finger to nose, finger count, and horizontal gaze. Always mindful of what the defense lawyer will argue, she always asks if somebody cannot perform a task because of a disability.

As a final test, Linden will offer to give the driver a breath test. The test gives a person a final chance to prove that they’re not drunk.

Assuming that they fail the tests, Linden will bring them into the Mount Vernon District station to administer a Breathalyzer test. This can be a lengthy process, especially if other officers are waiting to use the station's sole machine.

If the results of the breath test are positive, then she will take them to the magistrate’s office where they will swear out a warrant for a DWI. The person will then have to sit in the holding cell for at least four hours before they can be picked up. His or her car will be impounded unless somebody is there to drive it home. First offenders lose their privilege to drive for seven days; drivers with prior offenses may lose it for as long as 60 days.

During her speech, Linden showed Jacqui’s story, a tragic tale about a beautiful, young Venezuelan girl who was in a car with two friends that was struck by 19-year-old Reggie. Jacqui’s two friends were killed and 90 percent of Jacqui’s body was burned. She somehow survived, but after numerous surgeries she bears the mark of the accident with a severely deformed face. Jaqui now speaks at engagements all over the country about the dangers of drunk driving. Reggie is spending 14 years in jail.

After Linden’s presentation, Kline spoke about how different DWI’s were treated when he was an officer during the 80s.

“Nobody treated them seriously and first offenses were almost always changed to reckless driving,” Kline said. “Then, MADD, SADD and other groups came along and lobbied to get stiffer penalties. It took awhile, but things have definitely changed.”