- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006


Worker falls down elevator shaft

A construction worker was seriously injured yesterdayThurs. when he fell down an elevator shaft in Northwest.

D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the accident happened at a home under construction in the 3500 block of Rittenhouse Street.

Mr. Etter said the worker opened a door, apparently thinking he was walking into a closet — but fell three stories down the shaft instead. The elevator car has not been installed.

He was being treated yesterday at Washington Hospital Center with injuries considered life-threatening.

Ex-DOT supervisor pleads guilty to fraud

A former supervisor at the U.S. Department of Transportation pleaded guilty yesterday to using phony checks and stolen credit cards to hire escorts while on government travel.

Shang Hsiung, 54, of Takoma Park, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and likely will be be given eight to 14 months in prison at his sentencing in March, prosecutors said.

Hsiung oversaw hybrid- and electric-propulsion technology projects for the Transportation Department.

The U.S. attorney’s office said evidence showed that from 2001 through March 2006 he used counterfeit checks and credit-card information stolen from co-workers to pay for escorts while he was on travel.

He also was charged with impersonating a senior executive of a publicly traded company, telling escorts over the phone that he wanted to arrange services for an important Asian businessman.



Voting machine repairs made; state not told

Diebold Election Systems quietly replaced flawed components in several thousand Maryland voting machines in 2005 to fix a “screen-freeze” problem the company had discovered three years earlier, according to published reports yesterday.

State Board of Elections Chairman Gilles W. Burger said Diebold’s failure to fully inform board members of the repairs at the time raises questions about whether the company violated its state contracts.

“This demonstrates the level of contractor oversight that Diebold requires,” Mr. Burger told the Baltimore Sun. “On Monday, I’m going to ask our attorneys to report back to me if there was any violation of the contract and what financial remedies are available to me.”

The screen freezes prompted Diebold to replace motherboards on 4,700 machines in Allegany, Dorchester, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, The Washington Post reported. Those counties introduced the machines in 2004 in the first phase of Maryland’s transition to a uniform electronic voting system.

The unpredictable freezes don’t cause votes to be lost, but they confuse voters and election judges who wonder whether votes cast on a frozen machine will be counted.

The screen freezes are unrelated to problems in September’s primary, when Diebold’s electronic voter-registration machines rebooted without warning in every Maryland precinct. The rebooting was caused by a software defect, which Diebold says has been corrected.


Annapolis High faces potential state takeover

Anne Arundel County officials say the state may take over Annapolis High School next year if it doesn’t rebound from failing to meet state standards for the past four years.

County Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell said that the school’s problems are serious and that the county needs to look at how it happened and how to provide the resources and support to turn it around.

The school had the lowest graduation rate in the county at 76 percent, below the state standard of 86 percent.

State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said the designation isn’t as severe as it seems. “If a school system is already taking corrective actions, it doesn’t mean a great deal,” he said.

Lynn Whittington, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, said after-school enrichment programs and a summer program for incoming freshmen are planned.


Gas leak closes downtown streets

Firefighters blocked off several blocks of downtown Baltimore yesterday when two manhole covers blew off after an underground natural-gas leak, a fire department spokesman said.

Several blocks of Charles Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, and Lombard Street were blocked by firetrucks. Firefighters put up yellow tape blocking the sidewalks along the closed streets and kept pedestrians from walking along them.

“We have been able to assess some levels of natural gas along the Charles Street corridor,” fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said. “We have a [hazardous materials] task force here.”

A traffic control officer at Lombard and Charles reported seeing the manhole covers blow off at 2:30 p.m., Mr. Cartwright said.

No one was injured, and no evacuations were required, Mr. Cartwright said.

Firefighters pulled off manhole covers in the vicinity to check underground for gas readings and for ventilation.

Officials said other gases have been detected as well, but they could not identify them.

Charles Street was closed from Pratt Street to Baltimore Street. Lombard was closed from Calvert Street to Liberty Street.


Teenager indicted in psychiatrist slaying

A man charged in the slaying of a prominent psychiatrist was indicted yesterday by a Montgomery County grand jury on one count of first-degree murder.

Vitaly Davydov, 19, has been charged in the Sept. 3 slaying of Dr. Wayne S. Fenton, 53, in the psychiatrist’s office in the 11500 block of Old Georgetown Road.

Mr. Davydov’s father was at the scene and told officers that his son left Dr. Fenton’s office with blood on his pants and shirt.

Prosecutors said Mr. Davydov admitted to receiving psychiatric care from Dr. Fenton and beating him during an argument over medication.

An autopsy determined that the death was caused by head injuries from blunt-force trauma.

Mr. Davydov faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. No trial date has been set.


Fire started in heating system

A piece of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment was found to be the cause of a fire that left a building used by the 902nd Military Intelligence Group uninhabitable, base officials said yesterday.

The Nathan Hale Building caught fire last Friday. Investigators said the fire started on the fourth floor.

The 902nd is the Army’s largest counterespionage unit.

Fort Meade has implemented a safety plan for those who need to enter the building, base officials said. Officials have gone through the building to take air samples. Plans are in progress for relocating the displaced employees.

A timeline for the reconstruction of Building 4554 could take anywhere from four months to two years, base officials said.



Shooting victim was trial witness

Alexandria police are investigating the fatal shooting late Wednesday of a woman who was a cooperating witness in a federal racketeering and drug case.

Bethlehem Ayele, 34, was waiting to drive across Mount Vernon Avenue at a stoplight about 10:15 p.m. when someone walked up to her car and shot her after passing several other vehicles, police said.

Police officials said they think she was specifically targeted but that it was too early to determine a motive.

According to court records, Ayele was a cooperating witness in the trail of seven members of the so-called Murder Inc. street gang in federal court in the District in 2004.

More than a dozen members of the gang were charged with 31 killings from 1989 to 1999.

According to court records, Ayele testified that in the early 1990s, she regularly witnessed crack cocaine sales at Park Road and 13th Street Northwest.

Prosecutors said her testimony helped establish drug ties between defendants Kenneth Simmons and Deon Oliver.

She was arrested on felony drug and conspiracy charges in 2000. She was sentenced to time served and five years’ supervised release in 2004.

Alexandria police want to interview anyone who was near the intersection of Commonwealth and Mount Vernon avenues when the shooting occurred.


Slavery records to be put online

A new program to digitalize records of black life after slavery will make it easier for black Virginians to trace their family histories.

The Virginia Freedmen Project will place online the detailed records kept by the state’s Freedmen’s Bureau by next year. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine made the announcement yesterday. He also said a street marker will be put in downtown Richmond to honor the bureau.

Established throughout the South, Freedmen’s Bureaus helped newly freed blacks manage their money, reconnect with family and adjust to a very different life.

Wayne Metcalfe is with the Genealogical Society of Utah, a partner in the project. He said the project will be duplicated in other states.

Mr. Kaine said Virginia was chosen as the pilot in part because of its high number of newly freed blacks and because of the historical significance of the upcoming Jamestown 2007 commemoration.


Norovirus reported at William & Mary

More than 150 students at the College of William & Mary have sought treatment for flulike symptoms associated with a highly contagious norovirus, officials said.

The contagion broke out over the weekend, prompting 36 students to seek treatment by Monday evening for symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, fever and an elevated white-cell count. School spokesman Brian Whitson said more than 100 students reported to the student health center Tuesday with similar symptoms. He said some new cases were reported Wednesday, but he thinks the outbreak has peaked.

Sam Sadler, William & Mary’s vice president for student affairs, told students in an e-mail Tuesday night that health officials have identified the cause as norovirus infection. Mr. Sadler said the symptoms usually clear up in about 48 hours.

He said health officials are doubtful they can determine where the outbreak started.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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