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The Top 10 Stories in Montgomery County

Wednesday, December 25, 1996; Page M01

1. The American Dream

After a decade of disappointments, Silver Spring greeted 1996 with high hopes. The American Dream -- a proposed $585 million megamall with a wave pool and an ice rink -- was to be the catalyst for a downtown renewal. But County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) killed the project in November, worried that the public price tag would be too high. At year's end, Silver Spring was back to the drawing board.

2. The Silver Spring Train Crash

Eleven people died in February when a Maryland commuter train crashed into an Amtrak train in Silver Spring. The victims, all aboard the MARC train, were eight young Jobs Corps students and three crew members. The crash raised questions about emergency exits and trackside signals. Maryland officials outlined a broad program of reforms, vowing more aggressive oversight.

3. Life in Prison for Bruman Alvarez

Six times, Bruman Stalin Alvarez repeated the word "guilty" in Spanish in July as a judge read out five counts of murder and one count of rape. Alvarez, a 21-year-old handyman's assistant, admitting killing his boss and four members of the family that lived in the Potomac house where he was working. "It's time to move on," Irma Goff said after Alvarez was given a life sentence. She lost a husband and three daughters in the attacks.

4. The Blizzard of '96

It was a winter for the record books. The region came to a virtual standstill in January under two feet of snow. By early March, the century's mark for snow had been shattered. The white stuff provided a wintry playground -- and a mini-vacation -- for thousands of children. But angry adults jammed county phone lines with complaints about slow snow removal. When it was all over, the county had spent $9 million clearing streets.

5. Voting for Dollars

Members of the Montgomery delegation to the General Assembly emerged as key opponents of two football stadiums proposed for Baltimore and Prince George's County. In a sleight of political brinkmanship rare for the county, five legislators supported the stadiums in exchange for $36 million in school construction funds for Montgomery -- an 80 percent increase from the previous year.

6. The Ficker Amendment, Take 3

Robin Ficker, the Bethesda lawyer with a knack for heckling basketball players and politicians alike, presented voters with a third version of his ballot question to force a cut in taxes. The "Ficker amendment" came very close to passing in 1994. This year, it lost some appeal, with 56 percent of the voters opposed. Ficker vowed he would return.

7. The King Farm

It was the beginning of the end for a 440-acre piece of county history as ground was broken for development of the King Farm, the last big piece of farmland between Gaithersburg and Rockville. The heirs of W. Lawson King, one of the patriarchs of modern Montgomery, sold the property for $44.5 million to a wealthy Chicago family with plans for development. Next year, the first pieces of what is envisioned as a community of more than 3,000 houses are scheduled to rise from the land.

8. The Potomac Floods

In a year of wild weather, the Potomac River burst over its banks twice -- another first for the 20th century. The first flood was caused by melting snow from January's blizzard. The second, in September, was a byproduct of Hurricane Fran. The sting of $25 million in damage to the C&O Canal and towpath from the first flood was eased by 4,000 volunteers who helped clean up and by donations from residents. September's flood was less devastating, in part because of lessons learned in January.

9. Duncan vs. Sonner

One of Montgomery's longest-running feuds erupted into a midsummer war of words between County Executive Duncan and State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner. Sonner had announced plans to stop prosecuting some low-level drug arrests. Duncan advocated a zero-tolerance policy. The latest squabble between the county's two most powerful Democrats ended with an agreement to disagree. The real resolution, however, came in November, when Sonner accepted a judgeship on the Court of Special Appeals.

10. The Keystone Konspirators

Despite a defense that his thinking had been impaired by too many Tums antacid tablets, millionaire Potomac developer Charles S. Shapiro got 15 years in prison for ordering two botched hits on an elderly cousin. In 1993, Marvin Greenfield survived two shootings: The first attack came from a dark sedan that tailed him on Interstate 270, the second from a masked gunman who pumped 10 rounds into Greenfield's car outside his Bethesda home but somehow missed him. The "hit man" was a Prince George's police officer hired by Shapiro through two middlemen.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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