- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006


Nerve agent alarm goes off at Dirksen

Police closed off entries and exits at the Dirksen Senate Office Building yesterday afternoon after a detector signaled the possible presence of a nerve agent.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police said an alarm went off about 4:50 p.m. indicating a suspicious substance near a basement post office facility. An all-clear was declared about 8:15 p.m. after tests proved negative.

Firetrucks and ambulances gathered along Constitution Avenue and First Street Northeast between the Capitol grounds and the office building, and three fully outfitted hazardous-materials specialists were seen going through decontamination tents at the site.

“The fact that we haven’t had any positive hits on any nerve agents is good,” Sgt. Schneider said. It was not known what set off the sensors, she said, and that will be subject to further investigation.

The Senate is on Easter recess.

Police union to back Cropp for mayor

The labor union that represents about 3,500 Metropolitan Police Department officers plans to announce today that it will endorse Linda W. Cropp for mayor.

Officer Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, Metropolitan Police Labor Committee, said the D.C. Council chairman “represents the best opportunity to move this city forward.”

Mrs. Cropp said she was “pleased” to get the endorsement, which comes weeks after an endorsement by the D.C. Firefighters Association, the union that represents the city’s roughly 1,500 firefighters.

Officer Baumann said he thinks Mrs. Cropp also is the best candidate to address issues of concern to the union, such as strengthening the police department and increasing officer morale.

“She recognizes the importance of the police in creating a safe, more secure city for everyone,” he said.

He said Mrs. Cropp did not make any promises about the leadership of the department or the future of Chief Charles H. Ramsey, but he thinks Mrs. Cropp would take the union’s opinions into consideration.

The union has expressed dissatisfaction with the chief, complaining that the department is understaffed and that discipline is unfairly meted out by the command staff.



Woman gets 10 years for killing friend

A Columbia woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the strangulation death of her friend last year was sentenced yesterday to the maximum term of 10 years in prison.

However, Melissa Burch Harton, 26, could be eligible for parole in about a year and a half.

Howard County Circuit Judge Lenore Gelfman handed down the 10-year sentence, with credit for time served. Harton has served nearly a year in the Howard County jail and could be considered for parole after serving 25 percent of her sentence, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office said.

Harton was convicted in February in the death of Natasha Bacchus Magee, 31, of Stewartstown, Pa. Prosecutors said Harton left Miss Magee for dead and then repeatedly lied to police about what happened. But defense attorneys said Harton fought for her life after Miss Magee attacked her during a drunken argument.

The women went out for dinner and drinks March 9, 2005, and Miss Magee’s body was found in a parking lot in Columbia later that night. Harton confessed to Howard County police that she strangled her friend.

Both were graduate students at Loyola College in Baltimore.

Jurors saw the six-hour videotape of Harton’s interview with police. In her taped statement, she said Miss Magee had told her a few months earlier that she had “sexual feelings” for her and described Miss Magee as being “territorial” of her and jealous about friendships with other women, although Harton also told police that she and Miss Magee were never sexually intimate.


Ambulance driver, patient killed in crash

The driver of an ambulance and a patient she was transporting were killed yesterday when a car rear-ended the ambulance, sending it spinning into oncoming traffic, where it was struck again and caught fire.

A 1993 Ford Thunderbird struck the rear of a 1993 Ford Astro van owned by AAA Ambulance Service of Upper Marlboro at about 7:46 a.m. on Route 4 in the area of German Chapel Road, the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office said. The collision sent the ambulance over a median strip and into the opposite lane, where it was struck by a 2002 Chevrolet pickup truck.

The victims were identified as ambulance driver Natala Rose Lowery, 25, of North Beach, Md., and patient Theresa Gant, 51, of White Sands, Md.

The driver of the Thunderbird, identified as Albert Reigle Jr., 39, of Waldorf, Md., was transported to a hospital where he was being held for observation. The driver of the pickup truck was taken to a hospital with what police described as not life-threatening injuries.


Prosecutors get access to inmate’s records

Washington County prosecutors have won access to the hospital records of a state prison inmate accused of fatally shooting a correctional officer who was guarding him.

Judge Frederick C. Wright III granted the motion at a hearing yesterday morning in Hagerstown after the state argued that the confidential records could shed light on Brandon Morris’ motive, state of mind and planning.

Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty if Morris is convicted of first-degree murder in the Jan. 26 shooting of Officer Jeffery Wroten with Officer Wroten’s own gun at Washington County Hospital.

Judge Wright refused to grant the state access to Morris’ psychiatric, juvenile and educational records. He said prosecutors had not shown that the potential value of that information to the state outweighed Morris’ privacy rights.



Sewage plant makeover scrapped

Plans to give Arlington’s sewage plant along Route 1 a makeover are now in the toilet.

The county hired New York environmental artist Mary Miss three years ago and has spent $650,000 on the project. But officials quietly dumped the project last summer after their focus shifted to a required upgrade of the plant to reduce pollution.

The sewage plant is near the Potomac Yard shopping center, not far from a massive new housing development.

Ms. Miss worked for two years on a vision to dress up the site with features including a fern garden, flowering vines, fountains and rain gardens. She wanted to run layers of steel mesh fence around the plant’s perimeter.

But the county is facing a December 2007 deadline, and costs are running $60 million higher than expected to expand the plant.

Officials said the art project turned out to be too difficult.


Monument welcomes written commentary

A monument dedicated to the First Amendment will include a 42-foot chalkboard on which visitors will be encouraged to express their free-speech rights.

The monument will be dedicated Thursday outside the Charlottesville City Hall with a lineup of featured guests that will include novelist John Grisham and former Virginia poet laureate George Garrett.

The sponsors acknowledge the free-speech expressions to be scribbled on the chalkboard are likely to offend some.

Josh Wheeler, a spokesman for the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said he expects the examples of positive expression will outnumber any negative comments.


Officials eye lawsuits against litterbugs

Southwest Virginia officials are considering slapping litterbugs with lawsuits.

The proposed anti-litter action likely will be recommended at a “Litter Summit” in Wise County this week. The proposal would allow officials to sue those who dump old appliances and tires into ravines and streambeds.

The Appalachian region is considered by some to be the most littered part of the state.

Activists and officials there are promoting the anti-litter effort to help clean up the region for tourists and potential employers.

Wise became the only county in Southwest Virginia last year to authorize civil action to stop illegal dumping and littering.


County considers stadium options

Authorities in Prince William County are looking at plans to either build a new baseball stadium or renovate the current home of the Potomac Nationals, the Washington Nationals Class A farm team.

A county committee is considering competing plans, but it has not determined how the ballpark would be financed. A county finance analyst said it could be paid for with a combination of bond sales and cash.

Past estimates for a new stadium have come in at more than $20 million. The county’s park authority is working with Potomac Nationals owner Art Silber to determine which option to pursue.

Barton Mallow Co. of Chantilly and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. of Baltimore have submitted proposals.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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