LMPD backs off murder, DUI charges against driver in fatal ax

Louisville, KY (WAVE) - A stunning reversal from Louisville Metro Police. Sunday night, LMPD went public with accusations the driver in a fatal accident was drunk and would be charged with murder. Monday we found out: it appears that driver was not drunk. In fact, police never actually arrested him. WAVE 3's Eric Flack spent the day investigating the potential fallout.

Sunday night, camera's rolled as David Leanhart was led off in handcuffs after his truck allegedly struck and killed 44 year old Richard Hammond of Louisville, who was walking along Dixie Highway around 9:00 PM Sunday night. Shortly after the accident, LMPD spokesperson Alicia Smiley told reporters Leanhart was drunk behind the wheel.

"We are charging him with murder as well as dui," Smiley told reporters.

As it turned out, Leanhart was not charged with a crime. In fact, it appears he wasn't even drunk. Monday, Dwight Mitchell, a LMPD spokesman who works with Smiley, told WAVE 3 Leanhart was simply taken into custody for questioning, and given a breathalyzer, which he passed. Mitchell said shortly after that, the 50 year old was released without ever being booked.

Mitchell said the department is investigating why Smiley told a different story after being briefed by officers at the scene, one that made it into the local paper and TV newscasts.

"Mr. Leanhart says that initially he had struck an object and when he came back he actually realized that it was a pedestrian," she told reporters at the scene. "Again, he is being charged with murder and driving under the influence."

Local attorney Thomas Clay, who has sued a number of police departments in the past for improper conduct, told WAVE 3 the release of the apparent misinformation could result in a defamation lawsuit against the department.

"Certainly you would expect a greater degree of accuracy in making these kind of charges if there's absolutely no basis for them," Clay said. "It's hard to imagine a more heinous crime to accuse someone of erroneously, then taking another person's life."

Clay said if blood tests taken during questioning, and still not complete, reveal Leanhart was under the influence of another illegal substance at the time of the accident, the department would likely be off the hook.

Monday, Mitchell said "unless those tests prove otherwise, he will not be charged."

By phone Monday, Leanhart's sister Kim said "We're devastated right now. For it to be blown out of proportion like this is uncalled for. It's just terribly uncalled for. They definitely should not have made those statements without knowing the facts."

Clay said if the drivers blood tests come back clean the police department may have to admit their mistake publicly to limit the potential damage down the road.

Mitchell wanted to reiterate, the entire incident remains under investigation, and we are aware of no legal action filed at this time.

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