CMU professor charged with drunken driving three times in past eight days
August 27, 2008 4:00 AM
By Torsten Ove Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Carnegie Mellon University professor has been charged with drunken driving three times in eight days, and his Squirrel Hill neighbors say they're worried he's going to hurt someone.
Jeffrey Hunker, a professor in the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management and former dean of the school, was initially cited Aug. 17, after police said he drove through a neighbor's yard on Squirrel Hill Avenue, ran over a small tree, smashed into a car and then slammed into a house.
His blood alcohol level was 0.262, and a second reading measured 0.271, according to a police report. The legal limit for driving is 0.08.
Since that morning, city police have charged him with DUI two more times, most recently on Sunday, and police say he also has a prior conviction for DUI.
Neighbors wonder why Mr. Hunker, a former computer security director in the Clinton administration, continued to drive despite the charges.
"He has little regard for the well-being of his neighbors or anyone else in the greater community," said Kenneth Herz, who lives next door with his 13-year-old son. "This is serious. He will do whatever he wants to do."
Dr. Kenneth Levin, whose house Mr. Hunker drove into, and Lori Kaplan, whose lawn he drove across, said they fear most for their children.
Dr. Levin's children are 5 and 3 years old, and Mrs. Kaplan's are 7 and 9; all of them play on their front lawns.
"I can't believe he could do this and get arrested and be out the next day," said Mrs. Kaplan, who was on vacation with her family Aug. 17. "If Ken's kids had been outside, [Mr. Hunker] would have killed them."
Approached by a reporter last week in his driveway, Mr. Hunker, 51, refused to comment. He again refused to comment when contacted this week after his third arrest.
Carnegie Mellon also would not comment, citing rules governing personnel issues.
Mr. Hunker came to Carnegie Mellon from the Clinton team in 2001 as dean of the Heinz School but in 2003 announced he was taking personal leave.
He was replaced by Mark Wessel, who resigned earlier this month after revelations that excessive transfer and independent study credits had been approved for a 2004 degree awarded to an unidentified student.
Mr. Herz, who has lived next door to Mr. Hunker since the professor bought his house in 2002, echoed most of his neighbors: "We want him in jail."
But that's not likely to happen, at least not yet.
Because Mr. Hunker hasn't been convicted in his latest cases, police say there's little to stop him from getting behind the wheel again while he awaits a court date on Sept. 9. A hearing on Monday was postponed.
"The police are as frustrated as we are," said Dr. Levin, whose wife's car was damaged in the first incident.
One option police might have is to request that the district attorney's office file charges of endangering the public against Mr. Hunker to try to get him off the street immediately.
"I'm going to do that" today, said Cmdr. Kathy Degler of the Squirrel Hill police station, who had been away from the office and just learned yesterday of Mr. Hunker. "Because this is ridiculous."
In the two cases since Aug. 17, Mr. Hunker was released to a friend, who took him home. That's standard procedure in the city because of a change in state law in 2007 designed, in part, to reduce jail crowding.
While officers used to have more discretion in taking people charged with DUI to jail, they're now supposed to call someone to pick up the suspect rather than have him locked up. The DUI charge is then sent by summons.
Some city officers have derided the change as a "catch-and-release" policy.
In Mr. Hunker's case, Officer Frank Pattinato did take him to jail after the Aug. 17 crash because Mr. Hunker said he didn't have any family or friends to pick him up from the Special Deployment Division, where blood alcohol tests are done.
Police also towed his car to the city pound. Neighbors said he had tried to drive the damaged BMW from the scene until Mr. Herz ran into the street and yelled, "Jeffrey Hunker, stop this car!"
Cmdr. Degler said a district judge told the officers that Mr. Hunker should not be in jail, but they refused to release him because no one could pick him up and they felt he was a danger to himself and the public. Instead, she said, they waited hours with him until another district judge came on duty.
The second district judge released Mr. Hunker from jail that evening on his own recognizance. Mr. Hunker then retrieved the car from the pound and was driving it the next day when police stopped him again.
Officer George Kristoff, who was involved in the first incident, saw Mr. Hunker driving on North Craig Street. He noticed the heavy rear-end damage and broken brake lights and pulled him over.
He said Mr. Hunker, mumbling and smelling of alcohol, failed a field sobriety test. Officer Kristoff took him to the deployment center, where his blood alcohol levels measured 0.173 and 0.167, according to the officer's report. Police again towed the car to the pound.
A colleague picked up Mr. Hunker and took him home.
All was apparently quiet until Sunday, when Officer Daniel Mead responded to a call at Mr. Hunker's house for a report that he was suicidal. By the time the officer arrived, Mr. Hunker was gone, but neighbors said he had just driven away in a new BMW.
As Officer Mead was leaving, Dr. Levin spotted Mr. Hunker.
"He drove right by and I said, 'There he goes!' " said Dr. Levin.
Officer Mead motioned for him to stop and Mr. Hunker pulled over. Officer Mead asked him whether he was all right, and Mr. Hunker said "no," according to the officer's report.
"I asked if he had been drinking and he stated yes, he drank a pint of vodka," Officer Mead wrote. "Hunker could not perform field sobriety tests safely at the scene and was placed under arrest for DUI."
Mr. Hunker was again driven for a Breathalyzer, but this time he refused to cooperate, the report says.
Once again, Mr. Hunker was released to a friend and taken home.
Yesterday, neighbors on Squirrel Hill Avenue noticed the new car missing from the driveway.
"His continued driving and a lack of any kind of apology suggests a frank disregard for the safety and consideration of everyone around him," Dr. Levin said. "Could he kill someone? Yes, absolutely."