Shortly after midnight, a black Honda Element sped toward the Pentagon, speeding through a stop sign. Police pulled the driver over and saw that the driver was unable to stand steadily, slurred his speech, and smelled of alcohol.
The driver, 44-year-old Michael Songer, had taken a wrong turn at the Pentagon complex, a maze of roads which has unintentionally become an effective snare for motorists in Northern Virginia who are driving under the influence.
Nearly every other night, there is a person who gets behind the wheel that shouldn’t and ends up lost among the confusing streets and parking lots around the U.S. military headquarters. Many of them drive from Washington D.C. to Virginia, exit the highway too soon, and end up in a heavily guarded, unfamiliar area. Pentagon police spokesman Chris Layman says they’re easy to spot, as not many people visit the site at midnight and many are spotted going the wrong way on a one-way street.
Layman says that sometimes these drivers wind up driving around in circles or collide with a barrier or curb. Finding one’s way around the roads surrounding the Pentagon can be a difficult task, even when sober. Those driving under the influence barely have a chance.
Already in 2009, there have been 58 motorists charged by Pentagon police with DUI. In 2008, there was a total of 128.
The majority of the arrests occur between midnight and 4 a.m., when the complex is practically empty, and typically on Boundary Channel Drive, which is a straight stretch that tempts many drivers to speed.
Typically the drivers caught are driving to and from night spots in places like Georgetown, Pentagon City, and Crystal City. Three of the drivers arrested within the past 15 months have been Pentagon employees.
The fact that the three major roadways, Interstate 395, Route 110, and Route 27, intersect around the building in Arlington County contributes to the confusion.
Drivers pulled over for DUI at the Pentagon are charged with a federal crime because it occurs on government property. Their cases are handled at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, the same courthouse known for cases such as the American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and 9-11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
Typically, the defendants in these cases plead guilty. The penalty is up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.