Four weeks after Republican congressional candidate Ian Smith was charged with drunk driving, a candidate for Burlington County Commissioner running on his ticket in the June 7 primary election was also arrested in a separate DWI incident in Atlantic County.
Valerie Gallagher blew a .21 blood alcohol content on a breathalyzer test, more than twice the legal limit, after she was stopped by an Absecon police officer at 11:47 PM on Sunday, April 24.
Her arrest, which had not been made public, creates a potential obstacle for Smith, who is battling his own legal issues while competing with Bob Healey, Jr. for the chance to take on Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) in the fall.
The police officer, Christian F. Cavileer, said he heard “what sounded like a vehicle riding on a flat tire” and saw that the blue BMW station wagon “was tilting toward the passenger side.” He used his siren and lights to pull Gallagher over.
“As I was calling in the motor vehicle stop, the driver put the vehicle into reverse and started slowly backing up towards my patrol vehicle,” Cavileer said in a police report obtained by the New Jersey Globe. “I had to back up my vehicle to avoid being struck.”
Cavileer said that he used his PA system to order Gallagher to put her car into park.
“The vehicle was switched back to drive and started to roll forward. I again told the driver over the PA system to put the vehicle back into park, and again she put the vehicle in reverse and came at me,” Cavileer reported.
Once Gallagher took her vehicle out of reverse, Cavileer said he was able to exit his patrol car.
“I ordered her to turn her vehicle off several times. The driver tried to tell me it was off, but it was still running,” Cavileer stated. “The driver was fumbling with her documents and not doing what she was told.”
Finally, Cavileer said, Gallagher followed instructions to get out of her car, fumbling with paperwork and dropping items on the floor as he opened her door.
“She stepped out of the vehicle and staggered to the rear,” the police officer said. “Ms. Gallagher put her hand on the back of the vehicle and leaned her back on the vehicle to maintain her balance.”
The 48-year-old realtor reportedly told Cavileer that she had spent the evening with friends in Hammonton, where she had two drinks, and was returning to her home in Moorestown.
“I asked her if she had hit something with her car and she stated she had not. I asked her if she knew what she had hit and she did not know,” Cavileer stated. “I escorted her to the passenger side of her vehicle and showed her the damage to her vehicle.”
The police report indicated that Gallagher’s BMW had substantial damage.
According to Cavileer, Gallagher told him she’d started to drink around 8 PM.
“When I asked her what she’d had to drink, she stammered and stuttered, stating she did not know what she had to drink,” said Cavileer.
Later, Gallagher reportedly told the police officer she had three “hard lemon” drinks, but later changed her description to seltzer drinks.
“I detected the odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from her person,” he said. “While walking, Ms. Gallagher was swaying, staggering, and grasping for support. While standing still, she (was) swaying, staggering and grasping for support. While standing still, she (was) swaying, leaning on her vehicle for support, and would stand with her feet apart for balance.”
Cavileer said Gallagher’s “eyes were bloodshot and her eyelids were drooping.”
“Ms. Gallagher’s speech was slow and slurred and she was rambling while speaking,” he said.
The report shows that Gallagher was unsuccessful at completing four field sobriety tests.
Asked to stand on one leg, she told the police officer that “she couldn’t pass it on a normal day.”
“I’m going to fail,” Gallagher said.
She was also unable to complete the walk and turn test, the police allege.
“I am so not even passing anything,” Gallagher reportedly said.
“When I asked her if she wanted to do the test, she stated, ‘I’m going to tell you I failed,” Cavileer wrote in his report.
Cavileer also claims that Gallagher did not pass a horizontal gaze nystagmus test.
Gallagher was asked to recite the alphabet from the letter “E” to the letter “W,” but she declined.
“Couldn’t do that on a straight up sober day,” she reportedly said.
In addition to drunk driving, Gallagher received summonses for reckless driving and operating an unsafe vehicle.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty, according to a letter sent from her attorney, Christopher St. John, to the Absecon municipal prosecutor. St. John is also Smith’s attorney, although there is no evidence that Smith or his campaign were aware of the charges against Gallagher.
It’s not clear if Smith could have replaced Gallagher on the ballot anyway. The filing deadline was April 4 and ballots were due to be mailed starting on April 23, one day after mail-in ballots started to go out.
Nine days after her arrest, Gallagher joined Smith on a trip to Palm Beach, Florida for a political event at Mir-a-Lago, where former President Donald Trump spoke.
She is due to appear in Absecon Municipal Court on July 11.
Smith was arrested during the early morning hours of March 27 for driving under the influence after refusing to take a breathalyzer test. His trial is not expected to be held until after the primary election.
The alliance with Gallagher enabled Smith to get a preferred ballot position in the draw. Smith and Gallagher were placed in column one, while Healey got column two along with two candidates endorsed by the Burlington County Republican organization: Mike Ditzel running for sheriff and former Moorestown school board member Jeff Fortune running against Gallagher for county commissioner.
This is Gallagher’s second bid for public office. She ran for the Moorestown Board of Education in 2020 but finished last in a field of six candidates for three seats, running 1,679 votes behind the winner of the third seat.