- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009



Jury awards millions to Exxon plaintiffs

A jury has awarded about $150 million to nearly 300 people who sued Exxon Mobil Corp. over wells contaminated by a gasoline leak north of Baltimore.

The Baltimore County jury awarded a majority of the families in the lawsuit about $1 million each for emotional distress. Other damages cover losses in home values and lifetime medical monitoring.

The jury didn’t find Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil committed fraud, therefore couldn’t impose punitive damages.

About 26,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from a gas station in 2006 in Jacksonville.

Exxon Mobil said the spill was an accident. Company attorney Jim Sanders said he is gratified the jury found no intentional misconduct.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys said the verdict was fair and fraud was difficult to prove.


Slots panel hires consulting firm

A day after a judge upheld the state slots commission’s decision to toss out the by Laurel Park racetrack, the commission Thursday took steps toward moving on with its four remaining bids while the Laurel Racing Association vowed to keep fighting to revive its proposal.

The Video Lottery Facility Location Commission announced its choice of PricewaterhouseCoopers to serve as a consultant during the evaluation of the remaining bids. The commission hopes to start working with the firm in time for its next meeting, expected to be after April 15.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Laurel Racing announced plans to appeal the ruling from the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County in an effort to get the commission to consider its bid to install 4,750 machines at Laurel Park racetrack.

Laurel Racing’s parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., expected its bid to challenge the 4,750-machine Arundel Mills Mall proposal by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. for the Anne Arundel County slots license.

The other remaining bids are for 500 terminals each in downtown Baltimore and Cecil County and 800 machines at Ocean Downs in Worcester County. The commission isn’t expected to make any decisions on the bids until the fall.

The state also tossed out a proposal to put 750 slot machines at Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County because that developer also failed to include the required license fee.


Line-of-duty benefits may be expanded

The Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would extend line-of-duty death benefits to survivors of state troopers who die while working out on their own time.

Senate Bill 712 is named for 1st Sgt. Tobin Triebel, a trooper from New Market who was struck by a truck in November as he jogged along a road while on vacation.

The bill would retroactively award $185,000 in death and funeral benefits to Sgt. Triebel’s family.

It also would grant the Maryland State Police discretion to award death benefits to the families of other troopers deemed to have died while exercising to maintain fitness for duty.

The bill sailed through the Budget and Taxation Committee on Wednesday with backing from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat.


Ban on texting delayed again

The Maryland Senate has again delayed action on a bill that would ban text messaging while driving.

The measure would create a maximum $500 fine for violations.

Supporters say the bill is meant to send a message about the dangers of sending text messages while driving. But some senators question how the law could be enforced.

That’s because it would still be legal to talk on a cell phone while driving, and lawmakers are questioning how a police officer would know that a person is sending a text message instead of placing a call.


Sixteen families displaced after fire

A fire at a Silver Spring apartment complex displaced 16 families Thursday morning, Montgomery County fire officials said.

Firefighters from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were called to the Fairland Gardens apartment building on Treetop Drive near Route 29 about 7:45 a.m.

Firefighters rescued a man trapped on a balcony, but other residents escaped the fire after hearing the alarm, Montgomery County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said. A firefighter injured his knee after the floor on one level gave way.

The fire was caused by an electrical outlet that malfunctioned in a bedroom on the second floor of the four-story building, Mr. Piringer said.

Damage to the building is estimated at $500,000, officials said.



Spotsylvania has top foreclosure rate

Data from RealtyTrac.com shows that Spotsylvania County had the highest foreclosure rate in Virginia in February.

According to the data, statewide, one in 679 housing units received a foreclosure filing in last month. That includes notices of default or auction sale, and bank repossessions. The national rate was one in 440, up from one in 466 in January.

In Spotsylvania, the rate was one in 199 housing units.

The top of the list of Virginia’s 134 localities included Stafford County, Manassas, Prince William County, Orange, Caroline, Culpeper, Fauquier, Fredericksburg and Louisa.


State gets millions for energy efficiency

Virginia will receive more than $164 million in federal stimulus funding to help residents weatherize their homes and improve energy efficiency.

The Obama administration announced the funding Thursday. It includes $94 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program and $70 million for the State Energy Program.

The funding will help residents add insulation to their homes, seal leaks, and modernize heating and air conditioning equipment.


Web site tracks stimulus funds

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, has your ideas for how to spend Virginia’s federal stimulus money, and now he wants to make sure you can see where it goes.

Mr. Kaine on Thursday launched an overhauled Stimulus.Virginia.gov. The Web site was set up to solicit ideas on how to spend approximately $4.8 billion in federal stimulus money headed to Virginia.

Between Feb. 10 and March 6, the Web site received more than 9,000 project ideas totaling $450 billion.

All recommendations will be presented to Mr. Kaine, who is expected to make final decisions on how to spend the money early next month.

Then Virginians can go to the Web site to monitor how the money is being spent. The site will allow visitors to map expenditures by locality or look by Cabinet secretariat. It will be updated continually.


City buys old railroad line

Virginia Beach has acquired a 10.6-mile rail line from Norfolk Southern for $40 million.

The line would link Norfolk and Virginia Beach if a proposed light rail is built.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms announced the purchase of the line Thursday.

Funding for the purchase came from a $20 million state grant, $10 million from the city and $5 million from Hampton Roads Transit. The remaining $5 million will come from easement payments.


Soldier killed in park wanted in stabbing

A man who was fatally shot by law enforcement officers in Shenandoah National Park was a Fort Eustis soldier wanted in the stabbing of a fellow soldier, authorities said.

Spc. Christopher Lanum was killed Sunday after a trooper and other officers attempted to stop the minivan he was driving on Skyline Drive, Virginia State Police said.

An FBI affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court in Norfolk said Spc. Lanum was suspected in the wounding of Spc. Mitchell Stone at Fort Eustis.

Patsy Ann Marie Montowski, Spc. Lanum’s girlfriend and passenger in the car, was arrested Wednesday night in Chesapeake and charged with accessory after the fact to assault. Details of the incident at Fort Eustis and in Shenandoah National Park were outlined in the affidavit.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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