- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2000

A 52-year-old woman mauled by a police dog while asleep in bed, in her own home, has had her civil lawsuit against a Prince George's County police officer dismissed by a circuit court judge. Esther Vathekan, did nothing to warrant the attack; a tenant in a basement apartment had called police to investigate a burglary, and the mauling occurred when the 80-pound police dog Castro made its way into Mrs. Vathekan's upstairs bedroom, where it viciously attacked the 96-pound woman. Nevertheless, Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Michele D. Hotten dismissed the suit based on a state law that grants immunity to municipal employees for their actions on the job. Judge Hotten called the attack "extremely unfortunate," but ruled "the action is covered under statutory immunity." What a handy get-out-of-jail free card that is.

Esther Vathekan, meanwhile, required four separate surgeries to repair the damage to her scalp, was hospitalized for a week and accumulated $50,000 in medical bills. "There is no justice anywhere," she said after Judge Hotten's ruling. "These are all tricks that are being played" to prevent the culpable from being held accountable.

It's hard not to agree with Mrs. Vathekan. To unleash a vicious animal into a dwelling where innocent people are sleeping in their own beds seems like a bad judgment call, at the very least, on the part of the Prince George's County police officer who let the animal loose. But this incident is not an isolated case. The FBI has been investigating the Prince George's County canine unit since early last year and there at least 13 pending civil lawsuits alleging excessive force and brutality by Prince George's County canine officers. County Executive Wayne Curry announced last May that changes in training and tactics would be implemented to reduce the likelihood of unwarranted dog bites in the future.

None of which will do much good for Esther Vathekan, who will bear the scars of Castro's attack for the rest of her life. Her federal lawsuit is still pending, however. Perhaps that tribunal will consider the issue of right vs. wrong rather than the minutia of legal technicalities.

m PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS? Northern Virginia lawmakers are struggling to restore monies earmarked for transportation projects in the region that were removed from legislation pending in the General Assembly in Richmond. Sen. Warren Barry, Fairfax Republican, is among those seeking to restore the money before the General Assembly heads into the last week of its legislative session. Mr. Barry called the existing funds earmarked for Northern Virginia "nothing close to what we need" and urged that funds be targeted to specific projects in the Northern Virginia area.

The total package is worth more than $2 billion with the House version coming in at $2.6 billion over six years and the Senate version amounting to $2.1 billion over the same six year period. The latest version of the House bill, however, transfers much of the earmarked funds into a general fund to be disbursed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Mr. Barry and other area lawmakers, such as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine Hanley and Del. John H. "Jack" Rust of Fairfax, worry that much of the money will get lost in the shuffle and not be used to relieve the growing gridlock that threatens both the quality of life and the business environment of Northern Virginia.

This page certainly agrees that more roads are needed and pronto but beyond that, it's also well past time to give serious thought to other ways to ease traffic congestion. Any expansion of road capacity will not likely keep pace with development and the burgeoning populations of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. Some form of "congestion pricing" or incentives to promote telecommuting, such as the $500 tax credit proposed by Rep. Tom Davis, Fairfax Republican are longer-term solutions that deserve to be looked at. The sooner this gets going, the better. Else we'll all be stuck on a road to nowhere.

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