Novelist Shot to Death by Estranged Husband

Jeremy R. Akers was a lawyer, a former Marine captain and decorated Vietnam veteran, an alligator hunter and a scuba diver.

He also beat up his wife, romance novelist Nancy Richards-Akers, according to letters she wrote her friends, breaking her nose, giving her black eyes and threatening to kill her.

Akers finally made good on his threats, shooting her twice in the back of the head--as the couple's two young children looked on--as Richards-Akers sat in her red Jeep outside the home the couple once shared on Reservoir Road NW across from the German Embassy. Akers, 57, then went to the grassy area by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, put a shotgun barrel into his mouth and fired as police approached.

The murder-suicide left 10-year-old Isabel, 11-year-old Zeb and 21-year-old Finny parentless and ended a marriage that friends said had soured in recent years. Richards-Akers had moved out of their house and into a nearby apartment and had filed for divorce, custody and child support. "There were a number of officers who said they knew there was a domestic problem," said Shannon Cockett, a 2nd District police commander.

Akers's friends said they thought he snapped when the children began spending time with their mother's new boyfriend.

Richards-Akers, 45, wrote 16 historical romance novels, including "Miss Wickham's Betrothal" and "So Wild a Kiss," her most recent.

"All my fiction is inspired by real life," she wrote on a World Wide Web site. "Nancy will never cease to marvel at the wonder of working at home to spin romantic tales of faraway places, forgotten times, heroic men and courageous, self-aware heroines."

While history can be "depressing and dreary," she wrote, "romance allows me to find the happy ending, to modify reality just enough to give it hope."

Summer's First Sizzler

Hot Schools Broil Students, Roil Parents

Was it hot enough for you?

It was about 91 in the shade early last week as century-old temperature records melted for two days in a row, topping out at 98 degrees. And it wasn't just a Washington thing--the mercury hit 95 degrees way up in Portland, Maine.

At Mill Creek Towne Elementary School in Rockville, which lacks central air conditioning, 60 parents showed up to take their children home. For her part, third-grade teacher Rhoda Kupersmith was boiling over.

"We are dying," she said after the temperature hit 100 in her classroom. "Physically, literally dying. . . . This heat is unbelievable, unbearable. . . . This is the worst thing that's ever happened in Montgomery County."

The feverish temperatures eventually broke, as they always do, but experts said a potentially devastating problem lingers. Springtime rainfall at Reagan National Airport has been about half of the typical eight inches. Last year's drought already has left the ground unusually thirsty, and many crops, plants and trees can't take more stress.

"We've never really faced this type of moisture situation in the past," said Ray Garibay, of Maryland's Agricultural Statistic Service.

Techies Take the Lead

Executives Look to Tackle Regional Problems

They're talking about uncorking the bottlenecks that plague the region's highways. Overhauling the ninth grade as we know it in order to inspire the techies of tomorrow. Investing millions of dollars in local bioscience companies. And they've got no time to dawdle.

Technology executives may already be reshaping the Washington area's economy, but they're not satisfied yet. About 100 business leaders, public officials and educators, led by America Online Inc. executive Steve Case, met to figure out how to break through the barriers that often keep such ambitious pursuits on the drawing boards for decades. And although some of the plans could attract widespread opposition, many think the time is right for change.

"If you told me five years ago we could have" met to discuss revamping the ninth-grade curriculum, "I'd have said you're nuts," said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity College in the District.

Among other goals, the group seeks a "techway" that would establish closer telecommunications and transportation links between Washington and the suburbs. But the tech leaders know they can't do it alone, no matter how deep their pockets. So they'll use their influence to try to persuade public leaders to get a move on.

"We have new wealth" in the region, said William Lecos, vice president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Now the leaders who helped generate that wealth want to invest some of their gains in hopes of reaping even more. "I don't mean in stock options," he said. "I mean invested in this community."

Mother-Daughter Deaths

Motive in Train Accident Unclear

Maribel Gonzales was 23 and she was visiting Montgomery County from Mexico; police know that much.

But they don't know what could have caused her to cradle her 2-year-old daughter in her arms, step onto the train tracks in the middle of a busy Rockville intersection and lay down shortly before a Washington-bound Amtrak train came through. Police are investigating the deaths as a murder-suicide.

"The gate just went down, and she just kept walking out onto the tracks," Montgomery police spokesman Derek Baliles said. "It was a deliberate act on her part. She was killed instantly."

The deaths came less than a month after a Connecticut woman led her three children onto train tracks.

Across the Region

Teacher Incentives; Superintendent Search

* Virginia Supreme Court ruling could force retrials for hundreds of juveniles convicted of offenses from petty theft to murder. The court upheld a lower-court ruling granting a new trial for Jeramie Baker, convicted of stabbing a store clerk when he was 17, because Stafford County authorities had failed to notify both his parents of the prosecution.

* Good teachers in the District may soon be able to take their accomplishments to the bank. Under a proposed labor contract, some raises would be linked to job performance. And teachers who fail to improve could be fired. "We're moving it to a different level that really focuses on improving the quality of instruction," Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said. The plan includes a 4.5 percent pay increase that would make D.C. teachers' pay comparable to that in the suburbs. The contract now goes to the D.C. Council.

* Don't worry, be happy. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill say members of the D.C. Council took that approach by backing a nearly $300 million tax-cut package--and a 15.6 percent pay raise for themselves. At a hearing, senators voiced indignation that the council would slash taxes before tending to poor schools, crime and open-air drug markets. "Is it safe to live in this town? Are the schools worth attending? Are rats running all over the streets?" asked Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). "You're saying . . . 'We can do it all.' I don't buy it."

* An Alexandria man who allegedly used the debit card of Capitol Hill community activist Dennis Dolinger at a hair salon has been charged in his death. Dolinger, 51, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, was found stabbed to death in his home a week earlier. Police are still trying to figure out whether Steven Craig Watson, 44, knew Dolinger or whether the activist was the victim of a random attack.

* Six finalists for school superintendent in Prince George's County are likely to appear before the county's Board of Education for a second round of interviews. According to preliminary rankings by members of the search committee, Delaware's education secretary, Iris T. Metts, has received the highest score so far. She was followed by Jacqueline Brown, a Howard County school administrator.

* Heads, it's George Washington. Tails, it's an image honoring the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, America's first permanent English settlement. The new quarters will be minted next year, after Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) chose a ships motif over three other finalists. The series eventually will cover all 50 states; Maryland selected the State House to adorn its commemorative coins.

-- Erica Johnston and Steven Gray

CAPTION: Nancy Richards-Akers wrote 16 historical romance novels. Police say her husband, Jeremy Akers, shot her in sight of two of their children, then drove to the Mall and shot himself.

CAPTION: Andrew Craddock, 4, performs a standing swan dive for Slade Wylie, 4, at Montclair's Dolphin Beach.

CAPTION: The heat early last week signaled summer's start.