Driver charged in Eldrin Bell's hit-and-run accident

Atlanta police have charged the driver with sideswiping Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell's car.

Ruth Monje, 18, of Chamblee was charged after she told police she collided with the car and then drove away, police said.

She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident; improper lane change and driving without a license, police said.

Bell told the AJC he thought he was under attack when another car sideswiped his while driving north on I-85 on Sunday, June 27.

He had just left an 11 a.m. church service and was heading into Atlanta around 2:45 p.m. when the accident happened, he said.

Bell said he was forced to drive into a road barrier and it burst the car’s left front tire.

The driver of car kept going, Bell said.

The former police officer of 33 years said his cop instincts kicked in.

“As I saw him getting away, I cranked my car and pulled it into gear,” he told the AJC. “It would run, but I only had three wheels.”

Bell said cars were moving out of his way as he drove down the highway, attempting to get the car’s license tag number.

“I didn’t try to pull him over,” Bell said.

Then Bell said he called Atlanta police.

Bell said he doesn’t think he was being targeted. He just wasn’t sure what was happening at first.

“I was surprised and shocked,” he said. “Being a public official, you operate with certain … certain precautions.”

Monje, who driving a 1996 Toyota, hit Bell’s 2008 Ford headed up I-85 past the exit for Buford Highway, the accident report said.

Bell's car is registered with Clayton County, the accident report said.

Clayton County attorney Michael Smith said because Bell is a full-time county employee he can use the county-assigned vehicle 24 hours a day. He said Clayton authorities will investigate the accident because it involved a county-issued vehicle but added that, "it looks like the accident was caused by another individual ... and we will try and recoup the cost of the damage to the county's vehicle."

Bell told the AJC there were “about five people” in the car at the time of the wreck.

Bell said he went to Southern Regional Hospital for X-rays the following day and had a slight headache from the side airbag. He said the airbag protected him, however.

“Nobody better operate without them,” he told the AJC. “My head probably would have broken the glass.”

The passenger in Bell’s car, Jutta Yvette Gardner, was treated for neck and shoulder pain immediately after the accident, the police report said.