Councilwoman Toles found guilty of reckless driving -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated at 1:49 p.m., June 21, 2012.

A Prince George’s County Council member was found guilty of reckless driving Wednesday, a sentence given to her after she reportedly was driving more than 105 miles per hour and aggressively changing lanes on the Capital Beltway in February.

Karen R. Toles (D-Dist. 7) of Suitland was given probation before judgment and ordered to pay a $435 fine by a district court judge following a more than two-hour trial Wednesday afternoon, which included the testimony of three county police officers involved in the Feb. 22 traffic stop.

Toles was stopped by a county police officer on Branch Avenue off the Capital Beltway after she was driving at a high rate of speed and carelessly changing lanes, according to county police.

During the initial stop, Toles was given a $90 citation for unsafe lane change and a warning for speeding on the basis that the officer’s radar was not calibrated and that he could not accurately establish a rate of pace to determine her actual speed with probable cause, said Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis during a March county police conference.

Toles was later issued a reckless driving charge March 6 after a police-ordered executive review team made up of county police and state’s attorney’s office staff reviewed evidence from the incident.

She paid the citation March 5 and filed to appeal the reckless driving charge, which was not granted.

At the start of the hearing, Toles’ defense attorney, Rosalyn Pugh, made a motion to dismiss the case based on double jeopardy, saying that the unsafe lane change citation, which was paid, serves as the reckless driving charge and said it is unconstitutional because of the similarity of both citations.

Judge Megan Johnson denied the motion and state prosecutor Sam Danai called the involved officers in to testify separately.

Cpl. Joseph Brooks, the 14-year veteran officer who initially pursued Toles, said he estimated that she was traveling more than 100 miles per hour and saw her swerving between vehicles, nearly causing several collisions as he was “catching up to the vehicle.”

The pursuit began on the Capital Beltway and continued to a point near St. Barnabas Road off Branch Avenue after going through two intersections, according to police accounts and police cruiser video footage played during the trial.

“I had no idea who was in the vehicle or what the vehicle was involved in at that time,” he said, noting that given the manner of driving it could have been a stolen vehicle or someone involved in a homicide. “The Beltway is not engineered or designed for 108 miles per hour.”

Cpl. Steven Geer, a seven-year county police officer, also joined the pursuit after hearing Brooks on his in-car radio system and seeing Toles and Brooks driving northbound on Branch Avenue as he was traveling south.

He said Toles eventually pulled over after he made eye contact with her while driving next to her county-issued black Ford Escape and motioned for her to pull over.

Both Brooks and Geer said they drew their department-issued handguns when they first stopped Toles but holstered them after observing she was unarmed and saw no immediate threat.

Geer said he heard Toles say, “Oh my God. What’s going on? I’m a councilwoman,” as they came to a stop on the side of the road and approached her vehicle.

Lt. Kathleen Mills, who arrived on scene after Toles was stopped, said she spoke with Toles while there and Toles said “she was distracted,” and noted to Mills she was talking on the phone, putting on make-up and running late to a meeting in Annapolis.

With the district court sentence, Toles does not incur any points to her driving record, which currently has three: one for the unsafe lane change citation and two more for previous driving citations for incidents in 2009 and 2010, according to Motor Vehicle Administration driving records.

If she had been convicted, she would face losing her driver’s license, said John Erzen, a spokesman for County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks.

During the hearing, Pugh said Toles was not guilty based on there not being enough evidence to support the charges.

“There was pressure from the press and the public outcry and now you’re going to charge my client,” Pugh said. “There is no evidence that gives proof beyond reasonable doubt.”

Police Chief Mark Magaw said Toles was not initially given a lesser charge based on her status as a councilwoman and said the executive review panel “reviewed all evidence in the case to make the decision.”

Erzen said the state’s attorney’s office feels that the ruling is fair and said that “Council member Toles is now held accountable for her actions.”

Toles and Pugh declined to comment following the trial’s end.