- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008


Officials strengthen health alliance

D.C. officials yesterday committed to strengthening eligibility verifications for participants in the city’s HealthCare Alliance after an audit found the program is at risk for fraud and abuse by applicants WHU live outside the city.

“The program is strong,” Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said at a press conference alongside D.C. Council member David A. Catania and other city officials. “However, there remain things that need to be fixed.”

The audit by Bert Smith & Co. did not show a definitive number of ineligible participants in the Alliance, which provides health care for uninsured D.C. residents at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, including those who are homeless and illegal immigrants.

But the report did say that the Income Maintenance Administration (IMA) in the Department of Human Services, which ensures enrollment eligibility for the Alliance, does not perform consistent eligibility verifications that include checking driver’s licenses and requiring confirmation letters from shelters for homeless participants.

The audit also recommends making further inquiries into residents’ citizenship status to ensure they are not eligible for other programs, strengthening the investigative arm of the IMA and looking into addresses where an unusually high number of program applicants reside.

Mint rejects coin with taxation motto

The U.S. Mint rejected design proposals for a commemorative D.C. quarter because they include the words “Taxation Without Representation.”

The D.C. government submitted three designs Monday in hopes that the coins would help educate people about the District’s lack of voting rights in Congress.

The Mint said yesterday that it was taking no position on the merits of the issue, but that “the proposed inscription is clearly controversial and, therefore, inappropriate.”

The District is being included in the popular state quarter program after 10 years of lobbying. The new coin is set to debut in 2009.

One design proposal depicts the “stars and bars” of the D.C. flag. The other two depict astronomer and mathematician Benjamin Banneker and musician Duke Ellington.



New fire chief can ’manage a crisis’

Jim Clack, who oversaw the rescue operation after a disastrous highway bridge collapse in Minneapolis, was introduced yesterday as Baltimore’s new fire chief.

The Minneapolis fire chief was chosen from 40 applicants to succeed William Goodwin, who retired in December after a difficult year that included the death of a fire department recruit during a training exercise.

“Chief Clack has proven that he can manage a crisis. He has proven that he can run a department effectively,” Mayor Sheila Dixon said. “And he has proven that he can build consensus among firefighters, the unions and their commanders.”

Chief Clack said he was well aware of the circumstances surrounding the recruit’s death and had read an independent report that found 50 violations of national safety standards during the live burn that took her life. Another city firefighter, Allan Roberts, died while fighting a row-house blaze in 2006 — the department’s first line-of-duty death since 1995.

“Sharpening our focus on safety will be my first priority as your new fire chief,” he said.

Chief Clack, 48, had spent his entire 22-year firefighting career in Minneapolis.

The Interstate 35-W bridge collapse Aug. 1 became the defining moment of his career. He was roundly praised for his calm and organized supervision of rescue efforts. While the collapse claimed 13 lives, “we rescued 50 people in an hour and a half and that is pretty impressive,” he told the University of Minnesota News in a recent interview.

Chief Clack said he has visited Baltimore several times and had great affection for the city. While he has described himself as a “rural guy,” he said he plans to live downtown.

“Living and working in Baltimore is really a dream come true for me,” Chief Clack said. “I know that there’s nothing better than a warm night at Camden Yards watching the Orioles, even if they’re not so good.”


Sex offender gets 10 years for soliciting

A Frederick County judge sentenced a registered sex offender to prison for soliciting a minor.

Charles Smith will serve 10 years in a state prison after telling a 7-year-old girl he would teach her about sex. He pleaded guilty yesterday to sexual solicitation of a minor and was sentenced by Frederick County Circuit Judge Edward Dwyer. Smith will be back in court next month for violating his probation.

Police said Smith knew the girl before he invited her back to his apartment after giving her a ride.


Student returned after N.Y. arrest

A New York college student charged with first-degree murder in Baltimore in 2002 was returned to Maryland and formally charged.

Baltimore County police said officers brought Nicholas D. Weaver, 22, back to his home state Tuesday after he waived an extradition hearing in New York.

Mr. Weaver and Charles H. Davis, 21, are charged in the July 2002 slaying of David Baskin Jr., 18, in Woodlawn. Both suspects were 16 at the time.

Mr. Weaver is a former Eagle Scout who was months away from graduation at Adelphi University on Long Island. He was planning to go to law school and has never been in trouble with the law before. His attorney has said police arrested the wrong person.


Girlfriend comment leads to shooting

An Edgewood man was in serious condition after he was shot after making a comment about another man’s girlfriend, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office said.

Deputies responding to a report of a shooting in the 700 block of Sequoia Drive around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday found Curtis Suggs, 22, shot in the chest.

Investigators said Mr. Suggs was shot during an argument with Eduardo German, 29, over a disrespectful comment made about Mr. German’s girlfriend.

After the shooting, officers found Mr. German nearby and charged him with attempted second-degree murder as well as assault and weapons charges.

He is being held without bail at the Harford County detention center.


More time sought for wind power talk

The Garrett County Commission 1S asking state utility regulators to expand the public-comment period for a proposed wind power project.

The only opportunity currently offered for public comment on the 28-turbine project proposed by Clipper Windpower is a March 6 hearing at Garrett College in McHenry.

The commissioners have asked the state Public Service Commission to keep the record open for 30 days after the hearing to receive written comments on the project.

Clipper is the first company to seek PSC approval under a new state law that streamlines the regulatory process for wind power projects of less than 70 megawatts.



Police still seeking armed dorm intruder

Franklin County authorities continued to follow up on leads yesterday as they look for a man who was seen in a Ferrum College residence hall with a handgun.

Sheriff’s Department Maj. Josh Carter said the man intimidated a housekeeper who saw him Tuesday morning. He said authorities think the man had “violent intentions.”

After a daylong lockdown, Ferrum officials decided Tuesday night to cancel classes for the rest of the week and allow students to begin spring break early. It was due to begin this weekend.

Ferrum spokeswoman Natalie Faunce said most students had left campus by yesterday morning.

Franklin County continued to station officers at the rural campus as well as at an adjacent elementary school. During Tuesday’s lockdown and search, about 300 law-enforcement officers were on the scene.


Man charged in fire at historic tower

Federal authorities have charged a man with arson in connection with a fire that destroyed a historic observation tower in Wise County last fall.

Officials at the office of U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said Nicholas Owens, 22, of Coeburn, set a fire that destroyed the High Knob Observation Tower and a restroom building early Halloween morning.

The tower attracted 5,000 visitors a year and had been a popular attraction for visitors to Jefferson National forest. Efforts are under way to raise money to rebuild the tower.


Virginia tightens crab harvest rules

Virginia officials tightened rules on harvesting blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay in an effort to restore the dwindling crab population — and signaled that even more dramatic changes may be coming this season, which starts March 17.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted unanimously for a spate of rule changes during a meeting Tuesday in Newport News packed with angry commercial crabbers.

“We’re not going to survive this,” said Charles Pruitt, a waterman from Tangier Island. “You might as well throw us out now; we’ve been regulated to death already.”

The VMRC’s action comes as Maryland also wrestles with new regulations. The two states have been discussing joint strategies for weeks and will continue to coordinate efforts, officials said.

Maryland is considering a maximum size limit of 6½ inches for female crabs, but wants to proceed only if Virginia agrees to do the same, said Jack Travelstead, Virginia’s state director of fisheries. The limit will be discussed at VMRC’s April meeting.

Under the changes approved Tuesday, VMRC will require two escape hatches, or cull rings, to remain open on crab pots to give undersized female crabs a better chance to survive and spawn.

Commission members also increased the minimum size limit for peeler crabs, or those about to shed their shells and which are sold later as soft crabs for eating; moved to curb “agents” and “permit-stacking,” in which watermen can let someone else harvest crabs in their place; and capped the number of watermen who can dredge crabs from the muddy bottom of the Bay as they hibernate during winter months.

Only about 55 license-holders will be able to continue this practice, though officials said they may ban winter dredging entirely when the commission meets again in April to discuss other conservation measures.

“Believe me, the commission gets no pleasure out of passing regulations that make things more difficult for watermen,” said Steve Bowman, who heads the marine commission. “But the numbers don’t lie. Things are bad. They’re really bad.”

For example, the average annual harvest in Virginia and Maryland from 1945 to 2006 was 72 million pounds. The harvest in 2007 was expected to be about 40 million pounds, the lowest on record.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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