- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007


Officials probe cause of two house fires

D.C. firefighters are investigating a two fires that broke out early yesterday.

The first blaze was reported about 1 a.m. in a home in the 4200 block of Massachusetts Avenue Southeast.

Witnesses said a Potomac Electric Power Co. crew was working on an electrical problem nearby, and investigators are trying to determine whether that work had anything to do with the blaze.

A Pepco worker helped a man carry his disabled elderly mother out of the house from her room in the basement of that home. The 91-year-old woman is expected to survive.

As firefighters battled that blaze, they noticed another fire in a home next door.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the flames from that fire. Investigators do not think sparks from the first fire were involved in starting the second blaze.

Both fires remain under investigation.



Kaine signs ‘photo-red,’ other traffic safety bills

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has announced that he signed three bills intended to improve traffic safety.

The bills would prohibit cell-phone use by young drivers, increase the age requirements for using child safety seats, and allow localities throughout the state to use cameras to catch red-light runners.

Mr. Kaine calls the cell-phone ban a common-sense restriction on teenagers who might be tempted to pay more attention to phone calls and text messages than the road.

He said the so-called “photo-red” traffic cameras bill will reduce accidents and save lives.

The other bill requires children under 8 to be secured in a child safety seat, which is up from the age of 5.

Mr. Kaine said research has shown most 6- and 7-year-olds are too small to be properly secured with seat belts and shoulder harnesses.


Scenic parkway section reopens

A 15-mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway closed since a February ice storm is again open to fans of the scenic highway.

A stretch from Petites Gap to the Peaks of Otter reopened Thursday. The ice storm scattered tree limbs and debris on the road surface, closing it for more than one month.

Still closed is a 32-mile stretch in Amherst and Nelson counties.

Bruce Bytnar, a parkway district ranger, said it should take a week to reopen that segment.

During the winter months, it is not uncommon for sections of the 469-mile parkway to be closed because of snow or other weather problems. Parkway officials have said the cleanup has been slowed by vacancies in the maintenance staff.

A $1.5 million increase in the parkway’s annual federal budget of $14 million is expected to help.

The highway links the Shenandoah and North Carolina’s Great Smoky National Mountains national parks.



Arsonist sentenced on drug charges

One of the men convicted of setting fire to dozens of homes under construction in a Charles County subdivision in 2004 was sentenced yesterday on additional gun and drug charges.

A federal judge sentenced Patrick Walsh, 22, of Fort Washington to more than three years in prison for illegally purchasing two handguns while using the drug known as Ecstasy.

According to a plea agreement presented in a Jan. 5 court hearing, Walsh purchased the guns about a month before the fires were set.

Walsh also pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to distribute at least 750 tablets of Ecstasy.

A federal jury convicted Walsh in September 2005 of conspiracy to commit arson and 35 counts of arson for the Dec. 6, 2004, fires at the Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head. He was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for the arson charges.

A judge ordered Walsh to serve yesterday’s prison sentence concurrent to the previous sentence, followed by three years of supervised release.


Work on Route 355 to start Monday

The Maryland State Highway Administration will begin replacing the deck of the northbound Route 355 (Rockville Pike) Bridge over the outer loop of Capital Beltway Monday.

Highway officials expect to complete the $2.6 million project by fall 2008.

During the project, one lane of Route 355 northbound will be shut down. Two lanes will close during nighttime hours when necessary.

Officials said 47-year-old bridge is structurally sound, but the concrete deck needs replacement. Crews will remove the existing deck and replace it with a new reinforced deck.

Officials also will clean and paint existing structural steel, resurface bridge approach roadway, replace concrete sidewalks, restripe the roadway and install drainage troughs to redirect storm water.


Contractor pleads to tax evasion

An Edgemere man pleaded guilty yesterday to tax evasion for income earned while painting bridges for the state.

Federal prosecutors said Athanasios Reglas, 57, was one of the largest bridge-painting contractors in Maryland. He pleaded guilty to creating two fictitious companies to use as tax shelters.

Prosecutors said he pleaded guilty to not listing all his income on tax returns in the amount totaling $1.8 million. He also made payments to the shell companies to further reduce his taxable income. Prosecutors said he owed an additional $1.2 million.

Federal agents seized more than $350,000 in cash from his home, which will be forfeited to the government. Prosecutors said he also made nearly 100 cash withdrawals from a bank account to conceal how much money he was making.


Suspect pleads guilty in forced bank robbery

The second of two men charged with kidnapping a teenager and forcing him to rob a bank pleaded guilty Thursday, prosecutors said.

Sean P. Wallace, 20, of Hyattsville, pleaded guilty in Prince George’s County Circuit Court to two counts of kidnapping and one count of robbery with a deadly weapon, State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said.

According to a statement of facts, Wallace and a co-defendant approached the teenager in February 2006 at a bus stop in New Carrollton and threatened to shoot the teen if he did not rob a bank.

The three rode a train to Bethesda, where they took the teen to a Chevy Chase Bank on Wisconsin Avenue and ordered him to give the teller a robbery note. After the teller gave the teen a stack of money, he went outside, where Wallace and co-defendant, Jeremiah Hall took the cash and ran away when they saw a Montgomery County police officer.

The teen told police what happened and picked Hall out of a photo lineup.

Wallace will be sentenced June 27. He also faces related charges in Montgomery County.

Hall pleaded guilty in January and will be sentenced Tuesday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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