UMd. investigates a hanging noose
University of Maryland police are investigating a potential hate crime after what appeared to be a noose was reported hanging in a tree near a building that houses several black campus groups.
The rope was found between the Student Union and the Nyumburu Cultural Center, where organizations including the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the Black Explosion newspaper are based. Police said the location suggests that the incident is racially motivated.
“We are starting out with the assumption that it was a hate crime,” campus police spokesman Paul Dillon said yesterday.
Witnesses reported seeing the 3-foot-long rope Thursday morning. The rope had a 3-inch-diameter noose tied at its end and was 10 to 12 feet up in the tree, he said.
The rope was removed and destroyed by campus maintenance workers before police had a chance to see it, Mr. Dillon said. But the department has photos and several witness accounts.
The rope may have been in the tree for as long as two weeks, he said.
Funeral-home law challenged in court
A federal judge heard oral arguments yesterday on a constitutional challenge to funeral- home ownership restrictions in Maryland.
Maryland limits ownership of funeral homes to licensed funeral directors and the holders of 58 corporate licenses issued more than 60 years ago.
Critics say the law stifles competition, but the state morticians’ association says it ensures professionalism.
The four plaintiffs include owners of cemeteries in Hagerstown and Waldorf and a Maryland-licensed funeral director from Florida who wants to invest in Maryland funeral homes.
Record-setting ginseng root found
It is a ginseng root for the record books.
Roger Welch has been hunting for wild ginseng for decades and made his sizable find in Garrett County.
The 12-prong root weighs nearly a pound, at least 40 times the weight of a normal root.
Mr. Welch said that he has talked to dealers and the going rate for dried roots is more than $400 a pound. It is not clear whether his root is even more valuable because of its unique size.
Larry Harding at Harding’s Ginseng Farm thinks that Mr. Welch’s root is at least 100 years old.
Three killed in fire died accidentally
Autopsies for the three persons killed in a Talbot County house fire have concluded that the victims died accidentally from thermal injuries and smoke inhalation.
The findings were released by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office continues to investigate the cause of the Aug. 18 fire in the Arcadia Shores community east of St. Michaels. The fire killed Kennedy Fitzgerald, 20, his sister Margaret, 18, and his girlfriend Christine Maier, 19.
Four persons escaped the blaze. The homeowners, the Fitzgeralds’ parents, were in New Jersey at the time.
The fire caused more than $1 million in damage.
112-year-old building crumbles; no one hurt
Four families were left homeless by the partial collapse of a two-story brick apartment building, officials said.
No one was hurt in the incident Saturday morning, but firefighters had to rescue a man and his two children, ages 5 and 9.
Some tenants said they had been worried about the condition of the 112-year-old section that collapsed — one of three connected, but separately owned, row houses.
“I knew it was going to go any time,” Edward Thomas told the Cumberland Times-News. He said the landlord, Robert Pettiford III of LaVale, had agreed recently to let him and his fiancee out of their lease because of the building’s condition.
Tenant Marco Sandoval said he had told Mr. Thomas’ fiancee, Valerie Rulman, a month ago that her apartment was unsafe.
“You could see the wall, it was moving,” Mr. Sandoval said. “I told her, ‘Dang, this whole thing is going to go down.’ ”
Woman killed by fire vehicle
A Salisbury woman was killed when her car was struck by a sport utility vehicle driven by a volunteer firefighter responding to another traffic accident, state police said.
Yvonne Wilbekin, 46, was making a left turn at the intersection of Lillian Street and Chestnut Tree Road when her car was hit by a Hebron Fire Department vehicle driven by Steven Brown, 31, police said.
Miss Wilbekin was pronounced dead at Peninsula Regional Medical Center. Mr. Brown was injured.
The accident happened about 2 p.m., about 10 minutes after a two-car accident with multiple people injured at the intersection of Routes 50 and 670.
Convict’s presence upsets community
A Maryland man who served 10 years in federal prison for an attempted kidnapping in Shenandoah National Park is out of prison and living with his mother on Kent Island.
The arrival of Darrell Rice, 39, has created an outcry from his mother’s neighbors. Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Gene Ransom said he has been bombarded with calls and e-mails.
Rice remains on supervised probation and must wear an ankle bracelet that will monitor his travels for three years. But the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office said it cannot say for certain that Rice is not a threat.
Rice also was convicted of unlawful wounding two years ago in the abduction of a woman in Prince William County, Va., in 1996.
He was also a suspect in the slaying of two female hikers in Shenandoah National Park the year before the attempted abduction. The charges were dropped in 2004 when federal prosecutors said new evidence could cast doubt on the case.
Dogfighting charges filed against two
Anne Arundel County police seized five pit bulls and $3,500 of crack cocaine at a home after an investigation into dogfighting.
Police charged Kevin Jay Green, 44, and Kathleen Marie Bell, 37, with maintaining a dogfighting operation, cruelty to animals, conducting dogfights and drug and weapons charges. They are being held at the county Detention Center on $750,000 bail.
Police started their investigation after a tipster overheard men yelling “Kill ‘em” and “Break his leg” as two pit bulls attacked another dog.
During two days of surveillance, police did not witness any dogfighting, but they saw men walking the pit bulls and assembling small fenced-in areas.
Investigators found four grown pit bulls and one puppy in the home. They also found items that might have been used to build dogs’ endurance and strength.
They said several of the dogs had injuries that may have been caused by fighting, and the animals were turned over to Animal Control for evaluation.
Man gets 2 life terms for rape, robbery
A man convicted of raping and robbing a Riverdale woman was sentenced yesterday to two life prison terms.
Prosecutors said Jafet Hernandez, 20, of Riverdale, and two other men attacked the woman in October near Riverdale Plaza. She and another woman had handed over money during a robbery, but prosecutors said Hernandez and the other men attacked her after she tried to knock on a door for help.
One of the other men was sentenced in July to two life terms for rape, robbery and other crimes. A third defendant faces sentencing Oct. 5.
UVa. reaches half of $3 billion goal
The University of Virginia has reached the halfway mark of a $3 billion fundraising campaign — one year into the five-year drive.
The campaign’s success has UVa. officials convinced that they can top the goal by $1 billion by the campaign’s end in December 2011.
“We want to be the first privately financed public university,” said Bob Sweeney, the university’s top fundraising official.
As of July 31, UVa. had collected $1.465 billion in cash and pledges.
Although UVa. has not formally committed to topping the $3 billion goal, the university has a track record of exceeding its fundraising grasp. Its last campaign topped its $1 billion goal by more than $430 million.
“We’re ahead of schedule,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We just might pull this off.”
The $3 billion campaign is the most ambitious by a public university. Only four private institutions have more lucrative fundraising efforts under way: Stanford ($4.3 billion), Cornell ($4 billion), Columbia ($4 billion) and Johns Hopkins ($3.2 billion).
The campaign would bring UVa.’s endowment to $7.5 billion.
County approves wage increase
The Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a living wage of $12.75 an hour for county employees.
The measure and will go into effect Saturday. Those eligible are full-time workers with benefits.
The board’s action will affect 49 workers, mostly in maintenance, custodial and administrative positions.
The board also set a benchmark for rates in the future. It said the county must look at Arlington County and Alexandria and match or beat the locality with the highest rate.
Currently, the Arlington County rate is $11.80 an hour, and the city of Alexandria’s rate is $12.75.
Supporters of Fairfax County’s living wage say it is needed because the cost of living is so high.
Officers can’t catch alligators in pond
Virginia Beach animal- control officers tried to round up two alligators in a pond near the oceanfront but couldn’t snag the 3-foot-long critters.
Officers set traps in the shallow end of the pond Sunday to try to capture the alligators, police spokeswoman Rene Ball said yesterday.
Miss Ball said police dispatchers got a call about the gators Sunday morning. She said “it’s hard to say” how the reptiles got into the pond.
While Miss Ball said the gators probably are not a danger to humans, she added that police are asking the public to be careful.
From wire dispatches and staff reports