Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Officer charged with DUI after crashing cruiser

Six-year county veteran is on paid leave while police investigate incident on Interstate 270

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This story was corrected from its print version on May 15, 2008.

A Montgomery County Police officer is on paid administrative leave on charges of driving under the influence after crashing his take-home cruiser early Friday while off duty.

John Distel, 32, a six-year veteran who is a patrol officer with the 2nd District station in Bethesda, crashed into a highway barrier about 1:25 a.m. while driving south on Interstate 270 near the Montgomery Village overpass in Gaithersburg, said Lt. Paul Starks, spokesman for county police.

Distel, who previously worked in the 6th District in Gaithersburg, was issued three citations and released to a sober adult, Starks said. In addition to the DUI charge, Distel was charged with driving under the influence, per se, and driving while impaired. He sustained minor injuries in the crash, but was not taken to the hospital, Starks said.

A take-home police cruiser is a privilege, Starks said. Officers living in the county may join a waiting list to get one once they complete the training academy.

‘‘The idea is that we have more police and more police presence on the road, in public, in view, handling traffic collisions, traffic problems, responding to calls,” Starks said. Officers, even if off duty, must be prepared to back-up other officers and be accessible to any requests for assistance.

Police department regulations say that officers are not allowed to drive their cruisers within four hours of consuming alcohol. State law says no one is allowed to drive under the influence.

Distel could not be reached for comment.

Distel crashed his cruiser into the barrier on the highway’s left shoulder, smashing its rear, Starks said. Responding officers found the car blocking the highway’s middle and right lanes.

Officers noticed alcohol on Distel’s breath and arrested him, Starks said. Probable cause can be established through field sobriety tests, as well as identifying characteristics such as bloodshot, watery eyes or unsteady feet. He took a breath test, which will be part of the State’s Attorney’s case along with other evidence, Starks said.

Distel was also charged with driving while impaired. He told police that another vehicle hit his cruiser, which forced him into the barrier, according to Starks. The investigation continues.

According to a personal page attributed to a John Distel on Facebook, a social networking Web site, he is a 32-year-old officer who lives in Germantown. He lists his interests as: ‘‘Miller Lite, Baseball.”

Under work information, he named his employer as Montgomery County and his position as ‘‘Po-Po” in Bethesda. On May 6, the day after Cinco de Mayo, he said he was recovering from a ‘‘tequila fix.”

Starks said he had not seen Distel’s Facebook or private MySpace page. The county police department has no policy on such pages.

The Facebook page was taken down Saturday morning, after a report was posted Friday night. A MySpace page, which also appears to have been removed, showed the same photograph of Distel wearing an Indiana University T-shirt.

He was holding a beer. The page showed that he logged in on Friday. Next to his picture were the words "Mood: Discontent" and a yellow face with a frown.