Harbin: Pedestrian to blame

ATLANTA - Columbia County state Rep. Ben Harbin, facing drunken driving charges after a weekend traffic accident, told Atlanta police he swerved his vehicle to avoid a pedestrian, according to an incident report released Wednesday.

But the document also says two witnesses told police they saw no pedestrian or other vehicles when they arrived on the scene "seconds later."

Mr. Harbin, an Evans Republican who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, slammed his 2003 Nissan into a power pole about 1 a.m. Sunday. He was released on $1,200 bond and must appear in court July 19.

Since the accident, he has not returned phone messages seeking his side of the story. He did e-mail a statement Tuesday expressing regret.

"I would also like to express my gratitude for the overwhelming support and concern I've received from my family and friends," it said. "I am thankful to God that I was not injured, and I pledge to continue my public service to my district and the people of Georgia."

Wednesday's release of the police report is the first detailed explanation of what happened. Nowhere in it does it indicate that the officer realized Mr. Harbin is a legislator.

It quotes Mr. Harbin telling the officer that he had "looked down at the floor and when he looked up he saw a pedestrian in the roadway, slammed on brakes and veered into the pole."

Officer Bryan French, who filed the report, noted, however, that he didn't find any skid marks.

According to the report, Mr. Harbin was already in an ambulance when Officer French arrived. He said he smelled alcohol on Mr. Harbin's breath, saw bloodshot eyes and heard Mr. Harbin slur his words. He said he asked the lawmaker to step into the road for sobriety tests.

Officer French wrote that on each of the three balance and coordination tests Mr. Harbin had "difficulty keeping balance and he seemed slightly confused" while asking repeatedly to go home.

Officer French said he walked Mr. Harbin back to the ambulance, arrested him and put him in handcuffs.

Once at Grady Memorial Hospital, where Mr. Harbin was given a physical and found to be uninjured by the accident, Officer French asked him to submit blood for an alcohol test. Mr. Harbin refused.

FOR THE RECORD

Read the full police report from Columbia County state Rep. Ben Harbin's DUI arrest.

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