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Former Riverside police chief drank 4 whiskeys before accident, lawyer says

February 17, 2010 |  2:32 pm

Just a few hours before crashing his city-owned vehicle last week, former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach had been drinking at a strip club in Colton, according to a lawyer for the club and surveillance video.

Leach went into the topless Club 215 in Colton at 10:24 p.m. Feb. 7 and drank four Chivas Regal Scotch whiskeys, ate chicken wings and left at 1:48 a.m., said club attorney Roger Jon Diamond.

"He was very dignified and behaved himself," Diamond said. "He was eating and drinking by himself, but he did interact with other people."

Diamond said that Leach spent some time with one of the dancers and that investigators interviewed the woman, along with the bartender and manager.

"When he drove off, he did not appear to be driving erratically," he said.

The club turned over the video to the California Highway Patrol, which is investigating the crash that occurred about 3 a.m. near Central and Hillside avenues in Riverside. According to the police report, Leach's car went the wrong way down a street and struck a curb. The black Chrysler 300, its front tires shredded to the rims, went on to hit a light pole and a fire hydrant.

Leach drove three more miles before coming to a stop. When Riverside police arrived, they said, Leach was unaware that he had been in an accident. Their report said he repeatedly talked of having a flat tire. They also noted that he had been drinking but made no mention about whether a sobriety test was given.

Leach, 61, later said he was on prescription drugs and "disoriented" at the time of the accident. He resigned last week and the city has launched an investigation, overseen by City Manager Brad Hudson and former Riverside County Dist. Atty. Grover Trask, to determine whether police responded to the accident appropriately or whether Leach was given preferential treatment.

Leach could not immediately be reached for comment.

Diamond said CHP investigators had been to Club 215 several times in the last few days to interview anyone who might have interacted with Leach that night.

"I don't know how they found out he had been there, but when they asked we cooperated with them," Diamond said.

Cameras inside the club and in the parking lot caught Leach coming and going. The bartender reported later that Leach did not appear drunk, and the fourth drink, Diamond said, was watered down. Most of the time, Leach was alone at the club, which sits along the 215 Freeway.

"He had two separate bar tabs," Diamond said. "The first was for $30 and he left $40, and the second bill was $22 and he left a $20 tip."

Diamond would not comment on whether Leach was a club regular.

"We are caught in the middle," he said. "We want to cooperate with the CHP, but we don't want to go out of our way to violate any patron's privacy."

Investigators are still trying to fill in the gap between when Leach left Club 215 and when the accident occurred.

"We are not giving out any further information until we are done with the investigation," said Lt. Dave Lane, a spokesman for the CHP. "We are following up on every lead and every fact. It would not be fair to put out wrong information either for or against Mr. Leach. We owe him that and we owe the public the absolute truth."

The CHP is hoping to conclude its investigation in about a week.

-- David Kelly and Alexandra Zavis

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