- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008


Early morning fires could be arson

D.C. fire officials say two fires broke out yesterday morning at an apartment building that’s been the site of suspicious fires in the past.

D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Alan Etter said fire investigators think the fires at 33 K St. NW were deliberately set. One was burning in the trash chute on the sixth floor of the building, and another was in a trash compactor.

Mr. Etter said the trash chute fire caused smoke to circulate through the building, and it was especially heavy on floors six through eight. That led to some tense moments for residents, many of whom are elderly and have limited mobility. Mr. Etter said firefighters went from unit to unit asking people to stay in their apartments, sometimes placing wet towels at the bottom of doors.

A few people were treated on the scene, but no one was hospitalized. Investigators have no suspect or motive in the fires, which are being called suspicious.



Early morning fire damages strip mall

Montgomery County fire officials say a two-alarm fire that started in a chicken restaurant yesterday morning did significant damage to a strip mall in Wheaton.

Fire department spokesman Pete Piringer estimated the blaze caused $750,000 to $1 million worth of damage.

It started around 8:45 a.m. in the duct work above the stove at El Pollo Rico, where workers had just arrived to start cooking. The fire spread to the roof of the strip mall, which is across the street from Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton.

The fire damaged three other businesses — Ranger Surplus Army-Navy Store, Sarita’s Beauty Salon and Henry’s Insurance. All three were closed. A Salvation Army thrift store was also closed because its utilities were shut off.

Mr. Piringer said the blaze was accidental, likely caused by grease in the duct work. It took more than half an hour to bring under control.


Lawmakers take issue with audit response

State lawmakers say they’re unsatisfied with the responses from Morgan State University officials to an audit that found improper procurement practices.

Morgan President Earl S. Richardson appeared Friday before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. He acknowledged that “an error has been made” but said lawmakers shouldn’t assume his administration can’t manage its own construction projects.

The audit found that the university added a $3.1 million allowance to a bid for a 2005 contract, then used most of that surplus to pay the contractor for different work without state approval. Auditors have turned over their findings to the criminal division of the attorney general’s office.

Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, Baltimore County Democrat who chaired Friday’s hearing, said a lot of questions remain unanswered.


Doctor acquitted of molesting patient

A doctor has been acquitted of charges that he molested a patient during an appointment at his Salisbury office.

Dr. Mahmaud Shirazi was found not guilty Friday of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sex offense following a three-day trial.

Cynthia McDonald, one of Dr. Shirazi’s attorneys, said her client was “gratified” by the verdict and appreciates the support he got from former patients, colleagues and friends.

Both defense attorneys and prosecutors made character a focus of the trial. Dr. Shirazi’s lawyers pointed out that the victim went back for another appointment with him after she claims the doctor attacked her in November 2006.

Relatives of the victim cried and muttered in disbelief after the verdict was announced.



Bar proposes audits of lawyer trusts

The president of the Virginia State Bar is proposing random audits of lawyer trust accounts.

Lawyers use trust accounts to temporarily hold real estate proceeds or retainers until they are disbursed to a third party or — once a fee is earned — to the lawyer.

It’s a severe violation of professional conduct for a lawyer to mingle trust account money with personal funds or operating money.

But it does happen.

According to the state bar, a Virginia Beach attorney had his license revoked after he wrote 72 checks that he couldn’t cover from 2002 to 2005. The checks totaled $3.3 million.

Bar president and Norfolk lawyer Howard Martin Jr. said he will make the audit proposal to the bar’s executive committee next month. The American Bar Association recommends that every state conduct random audits to protect the public.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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