U.S. Rep. David Wu crashed his car into a Ford Focus parked on a residential street in Portland’s Forest Heights neighborhood last year, WW has learned.
One witness says the Democratic congressman smelled of alcohol. That witness and a second one say Wu appeared impaired. A recording of their 911 call reveals the congressman asked them not to call police, although the force of the crash damaged the Ford Focus so severely it had to be towed from the scene. Wu, in a statement Tuesday, said alcohol was not involved.
While this development took place more than a year ago, it adds one more piece to the puzzle of recent reports about Wu’s odd behavior in the months before he won re-election last November in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District.
As WW first reported in February, the seven-term lawmaker’s behavior grew so erratic in the final week before the November election, staffers twice tried to stage psychiatric interventions with Wu (see “Strange Wu,” Feb. 23, and “Wu’s World,” March 2). WW’s reports followed a Jan. 19 account by The Oregonian about the departure of several high-level staffers from Wu’s offices after the election.
In recent weeks, Wu has confirmed many details of those news stories, and in an effort to exercise damage control, has apologized for not being at his “best.” He says he stopped drinking in July 2010 for five months, but did so to lose weight. In response to direct questions about drug use, he has said he took prescription painkillers and other medicine to cope with neck pain and the effects of a strained marriage, which ultimately ended in a separation from his second wife. He also blamed a tough re-election campaign for his troubles. Finally, Wu has said he suffers from a genetic condition that causes him to react poorly to certain combinations of prescribed drugs.
In the wake of these troubling admissions, several Oregon newspapers, including the (Eugene) Register-Guard and The Oregonian, have either called for Wu’s resignation or strongly suggested he not run again.
The revelation of this 2010 car accident is sure to open Wu up to even more questions.On Feb. 19, 2010, Karen Fog was inside her Forest Heights home with her friend Barbara Tymer when, just after 9 pm, the two heard a loud crash. They went outside on that cold, clear night to find a car had plowed into the front of Tymer’s blue, 2007 Ford Focus, which was parked on the opposite side of the street from Fog’s house.
They also found Wu standing at the scene, next to his rented 2009 Dodge Charger, which had apparently crossed from the right side of the street to the left to collide head-on with Tymer’s parked Ford. The women say they did not recognize Wu and that it was only later that Tymer realized he was a congressman. (She thinks she realized this when she called Wu to follow up with insurance paperwork and discovered he’d given her the phone number of his Portland congressional office.)
That night Tymer asked Wu, who was alone, whether he was OK. He told her he was fine. But Tymer told WW he smelled of alcohol.
“He didn’t seem like he was raging drunk or anything,” Tymer says. “He was in shock.”
Fog called police and, according to a 911 tape WW obtained through a public-records request (listen to that tape at the link at the top of the story), requested officer assistance. “I’m assuming that there’s some kind of disability, if he was driving on the wrong side of the street,” Fog told the dispatcher from her home. “He says he fell asleep. I don’t believe him.”
But the police apparently did.
Dispatch sent over two officers, one of whom conducted a field sobriety test on the Democratic congressman.
"He passed," said Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson. "There was no odor of alcohol, no visible sign of impairment."
Simpson said he did not know what kinds of tests were conducted, but stressed that it's not unusual for police to be called to an auto accident and not file an incident report.