WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, was arrested for drunken driving early on Tuesday after speeding and then crossing the double-lane lines inside a Baltimore tunnel, police said.
The 18-time Olympic gold medalist later apologized for the incident, saying he was “deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.”
Police said Phelps, 29, was clocked by radar around 1:40 a.m. traveling 84 miles per hour (135 kph) in a 45-mph (72-kph) zone. He was booked and released.
Phelps, who has won 22 Olympic medals and appears to be eyeing a spot on the U.S. team for the 2016 Olympics, was “unable to perform satisfactorily a series of standard field sobriety tests,” authorities said, adding he failed a Breathalyzer test.
Police said an officer followed Phelps’s 2014 Land Rover onto northbound Interstate 95, through the Fort McHenry Tunnel under Baltimore Harbor, and pulled him over just beyond the tunnel’s toll plaza. Authorities said the Baltimore-area native was cooperative.
“Earlier this morning, I was arrested and charged with DUI (driving under the influence), excessive speeding and crossing double lane lines,” Phelps said in a statement.
“I understand the severity of my actions and take full responsibility,” he added. “I know these words may not mean much right now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.”
The drunken-driving arrest was the second for Phelps, who has spent most his life working feverishly in the pool but admits he likes to have a good time outside of practice and competition.
Emerging recently from a two-year retirement, Phelps first tested the comeback waters in April at a low-key meet in Phoenix and his progress has been steady rather than his usual impressive.
USA Swimming, the national team’s governing body, said: “The news regarding Michael Phelps and his actions are disappointing and unquestionably serious.
“We expect our athletes to conduct themselves responsibly in and out of the pool,” it said in a statement.
“I was shocked at the news, to say the least,” Dara Torres, a 12-time Olympic medalist who has been on several Olympic and national swim teams with Phelps, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “He was very fortunate that no one was hurt. He’s a good guy. He does work for kids. He does charity work.
“He could have given the keys to someone. He could have called Uber, a taxi. He has the means to do stuff like that. I just don’t understand it,” she said.
The U.S. Olympic Committee said it was “surprised by today’s news.”
“We are disappointed on a number of fronts, but want to give Michael Phelps and USA Swimming an opportunity to comment before saying anything more,” the USOC said in a statement.
Phelps was charged in Maryland in 2004 for drunken driving when he was 19. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of driving while impaired in exchange for 18 months’ probation.
Phelps was contrite following his first drunken driving arrest a decade ago.
“I recognize the seriousness of the mistake I made,” he told the judge in 2004. “It is wrong to drink when you’re under age. It’s wrong to drive when you’ve had anything to drink, no matter how old you are.”
In 2009, British tabloids published a photo of Phelps smoking from a marijuana pipe while at a party at the University of South Carolina.
“I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again,” Phelps said at the time.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney