- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007


Husband sues Metro after fatal bus crash

The husband of one of two Alexandria women killed by a bus on Valentine’s Day filed a $100 million lawsuit yesterday against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Martha S. Schoenborn, 59, and Sally Dean McGhee, 54, were hit by a bus at 6:25 p.m. as they were crossing Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest at Seventh Street.

In the lawsuit, Gregory E. Schoenborn seeks $50 million for the “wrongful death” of his wife and $50 million for “negligence” by Metro.

Bus driver Victor Z. Kolako, 53, a Metro employee for seven years, was charged with two counts of negligent homicide. Metro immediately placed him on unpaid administrative leave before firing him March 12.

Court records and witnesses said the driver appeared to be concentrating on southbound traffic and was not looking as he made the left turn. The lawsuit also accuses him of failing to apply brakes until about 50 yards from where the women were struck.

Mrs. Schoenborn and Miss McGhee were on their way home from work at the Federal Trade Commission.

The fatalities and other bus accidents prompted new Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. to require all 2,400 Metrobus drivers to take safety training every year.

Metro debuts rush-hour service

Buses that make fewer stops during rush hour between Silver Spring and downtown began yesterday.

Metro and the D.C. Department of Transportation began the MetroExtra Route 79 service with a fleet of 14 new blue buses running along Georgia Avenue and Seventh Street Northwest.

The buses make 25 stops between the Silver Spring Metrorail station and Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest.

Local buses running the same route make 54 stops on each one-way trip.

The service is available only during morning and evening commuting periods.

The D.C. government is spending nearly $2 million to operate the buses, which run on compressed natural gas along one of the city’s busiest commercial corridors.


City’s adult literacy lower than country’s

A report finds that about one-third of the District’s residents are functionally illiterate, compared with about one-fifth nationally.

Adults are considered functionally illiterate if they have trouble doing such things as following bus schedules, reading maps and filling out job applications.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams ordered the State Education Agency study in 2003 as part of his four-year, $4 million adult literacy initiative.

The growing number of Hispanic and Ethiopian immigrants who are not proficient in English contributed to the city’s high functional illiteracy level, which totals about 170,000 people.

The report found the lowest literacy score in adults 65 and older.

4 persons found unconscious in RV

Four persons were taken for treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning after they were found unconscious in a parked recreational vehicle.

A woman found two adults and two children inside a vehicle about 7 a.m. yesterday, D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said. When she was unable to rouse the victims, she called for help.

Mr. Etter said a gas-powered cooking stove inside the recreational vehicle was being used for heat.

A 13-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl were taken to Children’s Hospital.

A man and a woman, who are thought to be in their 30s, were taken to George Washington University Medical Center.



Coal train derails, spills coal load

Thirty-eight cars of a 148-car Norfolk Southern coal train derailed near downtown early yesterday, spilling some of their load.

No one was hurt, and investigators were trying to determine the cause.

Rob Chapman, a spokesman for the Norfolk-based railroad, said crews spent yesterday cleaning up the coal, removing the cars and repairing damaged track so the line can reopen by 7 a.m. today.

The line is used by about 20 trains daily.

Mr. Chapman said the train with four locomotives was bound for Norfolk, traveling at about 40 mph and carrying coal from mines in the Appalachian Mountains when the cars derailed at 2:10 a.m.

Mr. Chapman said it was not clear how much of the coal spilled but that all 38 cars had to be emptied before they could be removed. He said each car carries 100 tons of coal.


Secret chamber found in Jefferson-tied home

The excavation of a hidden chamber at the home of a young Thomas Jefferson’s girlfriend has not turned up any love letters — yet.

Archaeologists Thane Harpole said his team has to dig down a couple of more feet.

Fairfield Plantation was the Gloucester County home of Rebecca Burwell, who was 16 when she met Jefferson while he was a student at the College of William & Mary. The house was built in 1694.

Mr. Harpole and fellow archaeologist David Brown said excavation of the hidden chamber in the home’s cellar has turned up several artifacts, but nothing related to the romance between Burwell and the man who would become the nation’s third president.

The archaeologists have no idea why the hidden chamber was built, but said junk was stored there in recent years.

Grants and private donations to the Fairfield Foundation are paying the estimated $372,000 cost of the excavation.


Cancer centers get support from taxes

Virginians now can support cancer research by contributing a portion of their tax refund on their 2006 state income tax forms.

If they owe additional taxes, they can include an extra amount to help finance research at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center and the University of Virginia Cancer Center.

The centers are among 61 nationwide that have earned special designation from the federal National Cancer Institute based on the quality of their research programs.

This is the first year the centers are eligible for the directed tax donations, which will be shared equally.

Virginia Department of Taxation spokesman Joel Davison said the cancer centers will remain on the voluntary contribution list for at least three years. He said they will have to raise at least $10,000 from the tax returns in each of those three years or the General Assembly could remove them from the list.


Condominium fire displaces 40 persons

As many as 40 residents of a condominium are homeless after an early morning fire damaged 14 units.

The blaze broke out about 1 a.m. yesterday at a condominium complex in the 6500 block of Grange Lane.

It took about 50 minutes to extinguish the flames.

Lt. Raul Castillo said no injuries were reported, but several pets were not accounted for.

Investigators blamed careless smoking on a fourth-floor balcony for sparking the blaze.

Damage is estimated at about $2 million.



Impostors pose as water workers

Baltimore officials are warning residents to watch out for people pretending to be city water system employees.

City Public Works Director George Winfield said two impostors robbed a man in East Baltimore on South Belnord Avenue on Sunday.

He said they got inside his home by pretending to be employees before they robbed him.

Mr. Winfield said the men may say they a need to check water pressure because of work being done in the area.

He said they often wear clothing that looks official.

All public works employees carry ID badges with photo, he said, and make home visits only when they are asked to, and they always make appointments.


17-year-old dies in crash of stolen car

A 17-year-old city boy died when he crashed a stolen car while trying to flee from police, Baltimore police said.

Police stopped the car shortly before noon Sunday in the 2900 block of Liberty Heights Avenue. Police said the driver sped away as the officer approached the car.

The car slammed into the back of a tow truck. Kenneth Tomlin was pronounced dead an hour later at Sinai Hospital.


Windows broken repeatedly at mosque

Vandals have smashed windows at the Islamic Society of Frederick’s mosque three times in the past month, police say.

Two windows were found newly broken Sunday morning and the letters “ENG” were scrawled in black paint on the back of a building, the Frederick Police Department said.

Police have increased patrols in the area as the reports have multiplied, Sgt. Dwight Sommers said.

Mosque member Khalil Elshazly said the congregation plans to build a 6-foot fence around the property at a cost of at least $35,000 in response to the recent destruction.

“It’s getting ridiculous now,” he said.

Mr. Elshazly said he doesn’t think the vandalism is motivated by hatred. More likely, it is the work of drunken people or mischievous children, he said.

The mosque, which once was a house, includes a building for prayer, a soon-to-be library and an additional building for classrooms. It opened in October 2005 and serves a congregation of about 300 families, Mr. Elshazly said.


Power surge sparks house fire

A neighborhood power surge sparked a fire that killed two dogs at a southwest Baltimore home yesterday, fire officials said.

Firefighters were called to a home in the 1700 block of Morrell Park Avenue in Morrell Park to investigate reports of smoke in a home. After they investigated and declared everything under control, they noticed heavy smoke coming from another house on the street.

Officials said the fire destroyed two rooms in that house and two dogs died.

Authorities think a single power surge caused both incidents and that the surge was triggered by a resident trimming tree limbs — one of which landed on a power line.

About 15 to 20 homes lost power after the incident. No injuries were reported.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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