Tough Talk After Man's Death

Retarded 41-Year-Old Died in Van

Patrick Dutch couldn't talk or hear. And ultimately, the severely retarded man was unable to alert the driver or escort of a van that transported him on a sweltering day from his city-contracted group house to a day center in Southeast Washington.

Dutch died, curled up and unnoticed, in the back seat of the van, on a day when the temperature reached 99 degrees. The driver thought the 41-year-old Dutch had left the van with six other clients. His absence wasn't noticed for five hours.

"I'm shocked, saddened and sickened by what happened," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who ordered at least three city agencies to investigate the death.

"We want to know what went wrong," said Jearline F. Williams, the city's director of human services. "This is not acceptable."

D.C. Health Care Inc., which managed the group home--one of 150 homes for the retarded in Washington--has won awards from the city for its quality of care. But the city also cited the home within the last five years for treating Dutch, who had the mental age of a young child, too strictly.

Nurse's License Suspended

Morphine Doses Probed in 2 Deaths

Virginia's Board of Nursing issued an emergency order suspending the license of a registered nurse who allegedly told investigators she administered morphine overdoses to two terminally ill patients.

One of Rhea E. Henson's attorneys said Henson "is not guilty of anything either in law or fact." And a brother of one of the two patients said he would not be angry if tests showed that his brother's death was hastened. But Fairfax County homicide detectives are investigating the deaths, which occurred this summer. Henson wasn't commenting.

Henson was a contract worker at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital for two years. Before that, she worked for a local nursing agency, but officials said they knew of no other alleged cases of "improper administration" by Henson.

Morphine is a powerful narcotic typically used to relieve intense pain. It could be hard to prove that morphine caused the two men's death because they already were dying. Allegations of mercy killings by hospital staff members have become more common in recent years.

Duncan Proposes Tax Credits

Families Would Get Refund Checks

About 13,600 families would stand to gain under a proposal by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) to make the county the first in the nation to create a local income-tax credit for poor families.

In its first year, Montgomery's tax credit would apply to households with annual incomes of up to $17,000. The aid package would provide an average refund check of $322, with some as much as $614.

The plan is Duncan's response to a proposal before the County Council to require most companies that get county contracts or economic development incentives to pay a "living wage," which is more than twice the minimum wage. "This is a much broader package that gets the help directly to those who need it," Duncan said.

But several council members said Duncan's proposal was no substitute for the living wage bill, though they allowed that it might make a nice addition to it.

"The best way to reward work is to raise wages above the poverty level," said council member Philip Andrews (D-Rockville). "There's no reason why we can't and shouldn't do both."

Across the Region

Rifle Range Closed; Bush Cashes In

* Sure, the legal problems that make it to the Supreme Court demand the wisdom borne of decades of scholarly rumination. But here's a real stumper: A license plate reading: 1 DIV 0. William H. Rehnquist was on the case. "I believe it refers to an Infiniti, since when you divide 0 into 1 the result is infinity," the chief justice wrote to The Post's Dr. Gridlock, solving the riddle.

* A Montgomery County woman who ran a day-care center from her home was ordered held on $250,000 bond for allegedly causing the death of a 2 1/2-year-old boy. Police said Brenda Ann Epley left Stacy Stinger, of Gaithersburg, strapped in her van on a 93-degree day while she worked as a housekeeper. Epley, charged with second-degree murder, could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

* A rifle range at an Arlington high school is going out without a bang. "I think it is really inappropriate to have a rifle range at a school," said School Board Chair Libby Garvey, who was on the winning side of the 3 to 2 vote to close the range in Yorktown High School's basement. About 50 students used the facility.

* Not bad for lunch: George W. Bush picked up almost $500,000 for his burgeoning presidential campaign at a round-table discussion with Northern Virginia's high-tech mavens. More than 400 executives packed a ballroom at the Tysons Corner Ritz Carlton in what organizers called the largest expression of support for a presidential candidate by the area's emerging power brokers.

* A former Rockville High School choral teacher who had a three-year affair with a student a decade ago was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years' probation. Phoebe J. Rockwell, now 47, had pleaded guilty to child abuse in the case. "The fact that you sought her out isn't the issue," the judge told the former student, now 26. "She had the obligation to say no."

* In at least the third ongoing federal investigation into allegations of excessive force by Prince George's County law enforcement officers, the FBI is looking into a claim that a prisoner was beaten so badly in September that he suffered brain damage. A lawsuit filed for Christopher Byron Simms, 29, seeks $100 million in damages. County Corrections Director Barry L. Stanton denied the allegations, saying Simms's injuries--which hospitalized him for two months--"were a product of his own actions."

-- Erica Johnston

Surgery Removes Half of Brain

Teenager Recovering From Operation to Halt Seizures

Amber Ramirez, a freckle-faced 15-year-old who has a rare, degenerative brain disease, used to suffer violent seizures as often as a dozen times a day. Now, doctors hope, her seizures are over for good.

The teenager from Lincoln, Neb., was faring "exceedingly well" after doctors removed half of her brain in a nine-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. Neurologist John M. Freeman expressed hope that Amber could walk within a month and be able to talk after months of rehabilitation.

Amber opted for the radical surgery, known as a hemispherectomy, to stop the seizures and to curb the disintegration of the brain that is a symptom of her disease, Rasmussen's encephalitis. The operation is performed only 30 to 40 times a year in the United States.

Already, there are many good signs. Amber hasn't suffered a seizure since the operation. And although the left side of her brain has been removed, some of the functions that the left portion usually controls, including speech and delicate motor skills, appear to have transferred to the other side of her brain before the surgery.

"It will be worth it," said Regina Caves, of Tulsa, mother of a daughter who had the same affliction and underwent the radical surgery.

"Amber will be able to live a life independent of her mother," Caves said. "Both these girls wanted that, that they could live a life and not always having to be with mom. Amber will be able to do that, and it gets better and better every day."

Vatican 'Gags' Nun, Priest

Didn't Follow Church Teaching on Homosexuality

For 30 years, a priest and nun based in Prince George's County have toured the country, trying to build a movement of compassion to reconcile church doctrine with gay life. Now, they must choose between their two callings.

In a rare direct intervention, the Vatican placed a gag order on Sister Jeannine Gramick and the Rev. Robert Nugent, after concluding that they had failed to comply with the church's teaching on the "intrinsic evil of homosexual acts."

The public "notification," which has been used against American clergy only twice in the last 60 years, prohibits Gramick and Nugent from pastoral work involving gay people and disqualifies them, "for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutions."

"I call it theological cleansing, as in ethnic cleansing," said Sister Maureen Fiedler, who worked with Gramick in the 1980s. But church officials say the two were given several chances over the years to "clarify their positions."

CAPTION: Amber Ramirez, 15, shown July 8, 1999, in Lincoln, Neb., before her surgery.

CAPTION: Sheri Ramirez, Amber Ramirez's mother, smiles at a conference after the surgery.

CAPTION: Sister Jeannine Gramick

CAPTION: The Rev. Robert Nugent