THE REGION

Needle Exchange Called Success

Baltimore health officials hailed the success of the five-year-old needle exchange program yesterday, crediting it for a dramatic reduction in the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users.

The program has enrolled more than 9,000 regular clients, exchanged 2.5 million used needles for clean ones and steered more than 1,000 users into drug treatment programs. City Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson said HIV incidence among needle exchange clients is 70 percent lower than among Baltimore injection drug users who do not participate, meaning the program has prevented 300 HIV cases.

He figures that the $1.2 million invested in needle exchange has saved $30 million that would have been spent caring for patients.

Beilenson said members of Congress who have barred the District from spending public money on needle exchange are ignoring scientific data. "I don't understand how anybody can still be opposing this," he said. "It's completely political."

THE DISTRICT

Blood Pressure Killed Firefighter

Costello N. "Robbie" Robinson, the D.C. firefighter who died July 9 two days after he was knocked down by a pit bull while responding to an emergency call, died of high blood pressure, with a knee injury contributing to his death, an autopsy has concluded.

The District's chief medical examiner, Jonathan L. Arden, said in an interview yesterday that the primary cause of death was hypertensive cardiovascular disease, with blunt trauma to Robinson's knee a contributing cause. Such an injury can cause bodily stress that exacerbates a victim's existing condition, Arden said.

Robinson, 64, fell while trying to ward off a pit bull that lunged at him in an alley at Temple Court NW, where Engine Company 2 was responding to a fire call, officials said. Several D.C. Council members have called for restrictions on ownership of pit bulls.

City Sells $927 Million in Bonds

The District, despite unanticipated shocks on Wall Street, sold $927 million in bonds last week. About $241 million was new debt to finance construction projects on schools and other city property, and $686 million was to refinance or restructure old debt.

The city estimates it will save $5.2 million over the life of these bonds because it paid off bonds that have higher interest rates with the lower-cost money raised last week.

The bond sale--the largest in D.C. history--occurred just as the federal government was releasing statistics hinting that inflation might be on the way up. As a result, true interest costs on the refinanced D.C. bonds ended up at 5.23 percent, slightly higher than initially offered by the city. But the District still saved nearly as much money as it had expected when it conceived of the refinancing plan earlier this year, said Dexter Lockamy, chief financial officer for the D.C. financial control board.

MARYLAND

Judge Bars Probation House Arrest

Maryland's highest court has ruled that judges cannot impose house arrest as part of probation. The ruling came in a case that relaxed the sentence for one defendant and could affect hundreds of criminals across most of the state.

"Confinement is confinement," said Julia Doyle Bernhardt, an assistant public defender who won the case for an Anne Arundel County defendant protesting the terms of his probation.

A divided Court of Appeals said that although judges can set rules for probation, they cannot make house arrest a condition, because "the terms of house arrest may be so restrictive that the terms approximate incarceration, albeit outside the prison walls."

Mikulski Wants Bay Project Supervised

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) has asked an assistant secretary of the Army to supervise plans to dump dredged mud into the Chesapeake Bay, saying that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "bungled" its study of the plan's impact on the environment.

The Corps of Engineers announced last week that it will conduct a new assessment of the effects dumping will have on the bay grasses and marine life, promising to review criticism made by federal and wildlife environmental agencies.

At the time, corps officials said they were following the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act.

But Mikulski criticized the engineers for not consulting federal and state agencies earlier in the review process. She said the process needlessly delayed a project that could prove critical to commerce in the port of Baltimore.

VIRGINIA

Fairfax Reports Leap in AP Tests

Fairfax County has reported a sharp jump in the number of students taking Advanced Placement tests since its School Board became one of the first in the country to require all high school students in AP courses to take the end-of-course tests.

The number of Fairfax test-takers increased 52.3 percent this year to 8,884. As expected, the percentage of tests with passing scores dropped, from 75.4 percent in 1998 to 62 percent this year. The national pass rate on AP tests is about 64 percent.

Many schools in other jurisdictions discourage students doing poorly in the courses from taking the college-level tests, but Fairfax officials argue that the test-taking experience is important in preparing students for college.

Arlington Weighs Kindergarten Change

Arlington School Superintendent Robert G. Smith told parents at a School Board meeting yesterday that it may be possible to restore some half-day kindergarten classes in the fall of 2000.

Smith said that if budget money is available, he could envision two classes of about 25 kindergartners each. Several parents had complained that their children were not ready for a full day of school at that age.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We're trying to keep our 911 operators from having to take time to say, 'Is he holding the hose in his hand or is he running the sprinkler?' We're trying to enforce the [water restriction] laws, but not at the expense of people in emergency situations."

--Derek Baliles, Montgomery County police spokesman. Maryland drought restrictions ban sprinklers but permit watering gardens with hand-held hoses.

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