- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007



Suicide tops list of violent deaths

More Virginia residents kill themselves than are slain, and white people are more prone to suicide while black people are more at risk for homicide, the state medical examiner’s office reported yesterday.

The state edition of the National Violent Death Reporting System found that of 1,303 violent deaths in Virginia in 2004, about 63 percent were suicides and about 29 percent were homicides. Fewer than 2 percent were the result of unintentional gunshot injuries. The cause of slightly fewer than 6 percent of violent deaths could not be determined, and nearly 1 percent stemmed from legal intervention, such as a police officer shooting a suspect.

Last year’s report showed 1,332 violent deaths in 2003; 60 percent were suicides and 33 percent were homicides.

Among those who committed suicide, 38 percent had been diagnosed with depression and 37 percent were undergoing mental-health treatment when they died, the report states. Twenty-one percent had substance-use problems, primarily involving alcohol, and 21 percent had physical health problems, such as a terminal illness or chronic pain.

“Intimate-partner problems are a characteristic among the young,” those age 44 or younger, said Virginia Powell of the medical examiner’s office. “Physical health problems are just incredible among the elderly as a factor in their decision to complete a suicide.

Guns were used in 71 percent of homicides and 59 percent of suicides.

While whites are more at risk for suicide, black people face a much higher risk of being killed. Black males made up about 10 percent of Virginia’s population in 2004, but accounted for more than 51 percent of homicide victims.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiated the reporting system in Decem-ber 2001. Virginia was one of several states to receive initial federal funding and began its reporting system in late 2003.

The survey doesn’t include data on court-ordered executions, victims who died in Virginia but were out-of-state residents, and accidental deaths not caused by firearms.


William & Mary study to focus on religion

The president of the College of William & Mary is forming a committee to examine the role of religion in public universities in general and at his school specifically as debate over the Wren Chapel cross continues.

In his State of the College address last night, President Gene Nichol said he knows his decision to have the 2-foot-high, century-old bronze cross removed from the altar of the chapel remains controversial and needs to be thoughtfully explored.

He said the committee will examine questions such as whether a public university can honor and celebrate a particular religious heritage while remaining welcoming to those of all faiths, and how does the operation of a historic Christian chapel square with a public university’s charge to avoid endorsing a particular religion.

Mr. Nichol sparked the controversy in October when he ordered the cross removed from permanent display at Wren Chapel. He said then that displaying the Christian cross sent an unmistakable message that the chapel belonged more fully to some than to others.

Amid an outcry after his decision, Mr. Nichol later relented and said the cross would be returned to the chapel on Sundays.


Health officials report 72 norovirus outbreaks

Norovirus outbreaks have been turning up in nursing homes, colleges, hotels, day care centers and military bases across Virginia.

Health officials say that 72 norovirus outbreaks have been reported in Virginia since November. The highly contagious gastrointestinal illness causes diarrhea and vomiting, and one death has been associated with the virus.

A state Health Department official said better reporting may be one reason that more cases are surfacing.

The official also thinks there are more cases of the virus this season.

Of the Virginia outbreaks this season, 44 were reported in November and December compared with seven outbreaks in a similar period in 2005.


Boy, 6, dies after dog attack

A 6-year-old boy was fatally mauled by a dog in his home Wednesday afternoon, Henrico County police said.

Matthew Logan Johnson apparently was attacked by one of six Rottweilers, Sgt. Mike Palkovics said yesterday.

Sgt. Palkovics said the boy, who was known as Logan, was pronounced dead at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.

Sgt. Palkovics said an adult was in the house with most of the dogs at the time of the attack, at about 5 p.m. He did not know the adult’s relationship to the child.

The adult found the boy with at least one of the dogs in the back yard. Animal-control officers seized all six dogs.

Sgt. Palkovics said a criminal investigation is under way.


Juror’s injury prompts mistrial in baby’s death

A mistrial was declared yesterday in the case of a woman charged in the drowning of her infant daughter after a juror was injured in a fall outside the Augusta County Courthouse.

The juror required medical attention after she slipped and fell face-first on the pavement during a lunch break in the trial for Amber Sprouse.

Miss Sprouse, 23, is charged with felony abuse and neglect in the death in June of her 11-month-old daughter, Chloe, who drowned in a bathtub.

A new trial is scheduled for April 24.

Miss Sprouse, who faces five years in prison if convicted, is free on bond.



State warns dialysis patients

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is alerting kidney-dialysis patients about two dozen deaths statewide since 2000 that may have been preventable.

The patients bled to death from the site where blood is taken from and returned to their bodies, dying in most cases at home and alone. Most died after the access sites weakened from repeated use, a medical examiner spokesman said.

Nancy Armistead, director of the Mid-Atlantic Renal Coalition, said some of the deaths may have been preventable, but noted the number was small compared with the 12,000 dialysis patients who die annually in Maryland.

During dialysis, blood is cycled through a machine that removes waste products. The site where a vein is tapped in the arm or leg is used for years in many cases.

An advisory sent to dialysis patients reminds them they should have “repeated educational sessions” about the proper care of their access sites and the signs of trouble.


Exile program keeps repeat offenders jailed

A joint law-enforcement effort targeting violent offenders has resulted in more convictions and longer sentences for the most violent offenders, authorities said.

The year-old program, Project Baltimore Exile, is a partnership among Baltimore police, the state’s attorney’s office, the U.S. attorney’s office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The program’s goal is to improve coordination between federal and local authorities to better identify violent offenders and take them off the street.

Prosecutors last year obtained sentences on 178 defendants charged with federal gun crimes in Baltimore, compared with 104 in 2005.


Charges pending in officer’s shooting

Two men who were shot and wounded in the home of a Prince George’s County police officer Wednesday evening are expected to be charged with assault.

The men reportedly got into a dispute with the off-duty officer while they were delivering furniture to his home about 7:45 p.m.

According to witnesses, one of the men started assaulting the officer and after the second man joined the attack, the officer drew his police weapon and shot both men.

The officer was identified by investigators as Cpl. Keith Washington, a 16-year veteran of the department.

The two men are expected to be charged with assault. They were in stable condition at Prince George’s Hospital Center yesterday.

Cpl. Washington was placed on administrative leave with pay.


Ex-school secretary jailed for embezzling

A former Howard County school secretary was sentenced yesterday to six months in jail for embezzling more than $10,000 from school activity funds.

Ethel Kirk, 53, was convicted in November of forging 19 school-issued checks over two years at Folly Quarter Middle School.

Kirk also was ordered to make full restitution and serve five years’ probation.


Petitions require growth referendum

Growth opponents in tiny New Market say they have gathered enough petition signatures to force a referendum on a proposed annexation that would nearly quadruple the town’s population.

More than 175 residents of the town of 500 signed a petition that was presented to the Town Council on Wednesday, requesting a referendum on the recently approved annexation of 260 acres. The signatures represent 54 percent of the town’s eligible voters, far more than the required 20 percent, said Bud Rossig, spokesman for Concerned Neighbors of New Market.

The annexation could bring another 900 homes, or about 2,400 residents, into the Frederick County hamlet known as the “Antiques Capital of Maryland.”

No date has been set for the special election.


Ship operator fined for dumping waste

A New Orleans-based ship operator will have to pay a $1 million fine for allowing four of its ships to discharge untreated waste in Maryland waterways.

The fine was imposed after Pacific-Gulf Marine pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Under the sentence handed down Wednesday by a federal judge, the company must also pay $500,000 for community service. The money will be used in part for restoration and protection of Maryland waterways.

Court papers and prosecutors say the ships tried to save money by using a pipe to bypass onboard pollution-control devices, allowing the discharge of untreated oily bilge waste into the water.

Meanwhile, two former chief engineers are scheduled to go on trial March 5 on charges that they committed environmental crimes on a Pacific-Gulf ship.


Electric heater likely caused Main St. fire

An electric heater is the likely cause of a downtown fire on Main Street last month, Annapolis Fire Department officials said.

The early-morning Dec. 18 fire at 149 Main St. damaged the second and third floors of the building housing the Chesapeake Trading Co. and caused smoke damage at the building next door.

The Annapolis Capital reported yesterday that fire investigators think a ceiling-mounted electric heater in the right corner of the second floor was responsible.

Damage was estimated at $250,000.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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