Russ Leach

10:35 PM PST on Tuesday, February 9, 2010

By PAUL LAROCCO and ALICIA ROBINSON
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside’s police chief is being investigated after a single-vehicle hit-and-run crash in his city-issued car about 3 a.m. Monday, officials said.

The city placed Russ Leach on medical leave Tuesday. Leach, hired in 2000, did not respond to requests for comment.

Riverside police initially took the investigation, but “in its best interest,” Assistant Chief John DeLaRosa handed it over to the California Highway Patrol on Tuesday afternoon, CHP Inland Division Chief Jeff Talbott said.

The CHP is probing separate allegations that Leach was driving while impaired and that responding Riverside police officers omitted that suspicion from their initial report, Talbott said.

“At this point, the physical evidence is gone,” Talbott said. “If there’s any impairment, our investigation will be based solely on the interviews of witnesses, which will be Riverside police.”

Talbott said that receiving the case nearly two days later presents challenges.

“We’re at somewhat of a disadvantage,” he said.

The wreck occurred near Central and Hillside avenues in Riverside. Leach apparently struck a fire hydrant and a streetlight with his black Chrysler 300, Talbott said.

In a statement Tuesday, the city manager’s office said Leach was not injured.

His own patrol officers stopped the chief at Arlington Avenue and Rutland Street, more than 3 miles from where the wreck occurred, Talbott said. His car had two blown tires and suffered heavy fender damage, the CHP commander said.

Talbott said it was unclear whether the chief knew officers were pursuing him before he pulled over.

CHP officers were sent back out the crash scene Tuesday evening to scour for evidence, and Leach’s damaged car was retrieved.

Riverside police did not respond to verbal or written requests for crash details. City Attorney Greg Priamos also did not return calls.

The outside investigation comes as city leaders said they have received multiple calls.

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