MARYLAND

Federal, County Task Force to Fight Arson

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and fire officials from three suburban Maryland counties announced yesterday the creation of a task force to investigate high-profile arson cases.

An agreement gives fire investigators from Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties the authority to cross jurisdictional lines to pursue a case and will make it easier for investigators to share information about crimes, officials said.

The ATF has promised to assign explosives specialists, fire protection engineers and forensic chemists to crimes under investigation by the task force and provide other resources.

State Lowers Flags for Kennedy

Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) ordered state flags lowered to half-staff yesterday in memory of John F. Kennedy Jr. Kennedy was a cousin of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy.

"During our most recent conversation, the lieutenant governor expressed her gratitude for the extraordinary expressions of support she has received from so many Marylanders," Glendening said in a statement.

State flags in Maryland should remain lowered until sunset tomorrow, Glendening said.

The U.S. Flag Code's recommendation for flying the U.S. flag at half-staff applies at federal locations after the death of the president or a former president, the vice president, the chief justice or a retired chief justice of the United States, or the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Fire Damages Temple Hills High-Rise

A three-alarm fire caused by an electrical problem gutted two Temple Hills condominium units yesterday, causing an estimated $80,000 in damage and forcing the evacuation of a high-rise building, Prince George's County fire officials said. No injuries were reported.

The blaze broke out about 10:55 a.m. in a sixth-story unit at the Lynn Hill apartment complex at 3103 Good Hope Ave. and quickly spread to a seventh-floor unit, said Lt. Mark Brady, a fire department spokesman. He said both apartments were unoccupied.

VIRGINIA

Recovered Sea Turtles Released Into Bay

Two endangered sea turtles that had been nursed by the Virginia Marine Science Museum in Virginia Beach over the winter and spring now have a new home.

The loggerhead and Kemp's ridley turtles were released Tuesday into the calm, 78-degree waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Kemp's ridley was found in February in the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth. It was stunned by the cold and had a severe drop in body temperature. The 5-year-old male turtle now weighs 10 pounds; a full-grown Kemp's ridley can weigh as much as 100 pounds.

The loggerhead, with a possible kidney infection, was found beached last winter near Baltimore, where scientists at the National Aquarium cared for him before moving him to the museum for long-term care. The male loggerhead weighs 30 pounds but is expected to grow to up to 300 pounds.

Probe Sought of Fairfax Sheriff's Office

A group of black law enforcement officers called yesterday for a federal civil rights investigation into the Fairfax County sheriff's department, from which Sheriff Carl R. Peed fired two black deputies. The two were subsequently ordered reinstated by the county's Civil Service Commission.

Deputies Robert Cutts and Jabar Shabazz repeatedly said they experienced racial discrimination while working in the Fairfax County jail. Peed fired both men last year, saying they violated department regulations against releasing information that might harm the sheriff's department. In addition to winning their jobs back this month, the deputies have sued the department in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Matthew Fogg, a deputy U.S. marshal and executive director of the Congress Against Racism and Corruption in Law Enforcement, cited the Fairfax deputies' allegations of harassment and disparate treatment and said he would ask the Justice Department to investigate the sheriff's department.

James Vickery, the chief sheriff's deputy, said the sheriff "would welcome anyone to come in and look at his diversity training, his diversity hiring and diversity record. Carl Peed has been a leader on these issues in this entire county."

Electronic Payments for Electric Bills

Virginia Power customers now can pay their monthly electric bills over the Internet.

Customers using the service can view their monthly bill and enter the number of the checking account from which they would like their monthly bill deducted, the utility said yesterday. The service can be found at www.vapower.com/ebill.

THE DISTRICT

Board Revokes School's Charter

The D.C. Board of Education yesterday formally revoked the operating charter of the Young Technocrats Math and Science Public Charter Lab School but could not agree on whether to rescind provisional approval for another charter school that plans to open in the fall.

Young Technocrats was closed by its board of trustees last month after the school board proposed revoking its charter because of financial and administrative problems. The school's ousted co-principals are fighting the closure.

The elected board could not muster enough votes to rescind the provisional charter it has given Kwame Nkrumah Public Charter School despite a recommendation from its charter school subcommittee, which said school founders are not following procurement and other procedures. The school will remain in limbo until the board either grants it a full charter or revokes the provisional approval.

School Closes for Classes, Lunch

Summer school classes and the free lunch program at Merritt Elementary School, 5002 Hayes St. NE, will be canceled today while workers repair the school's water and sewer systems.

Programs will resume tomorrow. Children can get breakfast today at Merritt, but it will close at 9:30 a.m. Children who normally would get lunch there can go to Burrville or Aiton elementary schools, schools spokeswoman Denise Tann said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Jeez, they're peeling his eyes off!"

-- Keith Barry, 46, upon finding laser eye surgery, televised live to passersby, being conducted at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax County.