THE REGION

Traffic Jams Predicted on Highways Today

If you're heading out for Labor Day weekend and don't want to spend the whole time stuck in traffic, Maryland transportation officials have some advice: Leave early and avoid Interstate 95 through Baltimore.

Traffic today will be more than just commuters and holiday travelers. It also will be sports fans heading to home games of the Orioles, Ravens and Redskins and concertgoers on their way to see the Beach Boys play at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

All of those traffic-generating events are happening today in the Washington-Baltimore region, starting at noon with the Ravens game in Baltimore. The Maryland Department of Transportation is adding traffic crews on major highways to respond to accidents and assist motorists, posting "transit ambassadors" at stations along Baltimore's Central Light Rail line to help customers, and halting all road construction on major highways. Electronic message boards will carry notices of accidents, delays and detours on I-95 and will be coordinated between Virginia and Maine.

Dennis Hangs Around to Hammer Coast

Trapped by other weather systems and feeding from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, Tropical Storm Dennis continued to thrash coastal communities from Virginia to the Carolinas yesterday with blustery winds and sea spray as it hovered about 100 miles east of the Outer Banks.

The storm also renewed efforts to strengthen itself, meteorologists said, with scattered bursts of thunderstorms and swirling gales at its core, leaving open the possibility that it could become a hurricane once again.

But even as a tropical storm, Dennis's refusal to budge was wreaking havoc on the shoreline. In Virginia Beach, officials patrolled beaches and threatened to arrest thrill-seekers who were braving the choppy surf and what's left of the beaches.

"It's not letting go," said Colin McAdie, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "It's getting a continued supply of energy from the warm water below it. . . . The Outer Banks in particular are really getting battered by this thing."

MARYLAND

CSX Slows Commuter Trains, Officials Say

Service on MARC commuter trains serving Baltimore and Western Maryland deteriorated significantly this summer after CSX Transportation took over operation of the lines, state officials said yesterday.

"We're extremely frustrated with the level of on-time performance of the CSX-operated MARC trains," state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said. CSX operates state commuter trains that connect Washington with Baltimore on the Camden line and Washington with Western Maryland on the Brunswick line, which extends into West Virginia. CSX began operating the commuter trains June 1 when it took over part of the old Conrail system.

For the previous 18 months, trains had been arriving on time at least 90 percent of the time each month on the Camden line. On-time arrival dropped to 80 percent in June and 73 percent in July, then rose slightly to 77 percent in August, state officials said.

Rob Gould, director of media relations and public affairs for CSX, denied that preference is given to freight trains and blamed delays on heavy freight and passenger service along the CSX tracks.

Forestville House Fire Wasn't for Training

Like a trick birthday candle that can't be blown out, the memory of a blaze at a Forestville house that burned to the ground last Friday lingers.

The vacant house in the 3200 block of Flowers Avenue surprised Prince George's County firefighters on Monday when it burst into flames again, three days after they thought they had doused it. Investigators said the fire may have rekindled itself after high winds fanned sparks buried in the debris.

Fire officials said at the time that they had intentionally set fire to the house the first time as part of a training exercise. Yesterday, however, they said they didn't get that part right, either. Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a fire department spokesman, said it wasn't a practice blaze at all, but rather "an actual fire" that had been reported to 911 dispatchers by a neighbor.

He said the cause of the first fire is under investigation, as is the reason it was mistakenly called a training exercise.

Glendening to Be Pressed on 1993 Case

A group of Prince George's County ministers is expected to press Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) today to reopen the investigation into the death of a man who was shot 14 times while handcuffed and seated in the front seat of a District Heights police car in 1993.

"There are still too many unanswered questions regarding the shooting death of Archie Elliott," said the Rev. Jonathan Weaver, president of the Collective Banking Group, which represents about 200 county ministers. Elliott, 24, was killed June 18, 1993.

Mike Morrill, Glendening's press secretary, said that there may be some legal barriers to reopening the case but that officials are trying to see if there is a way around them. A group of lawyers seeking to reopen the case met in Annapolis yesterday with the governor's legal counsel, Morrill confirmed.

THE DISTRICT

Judicial Nominees Sent to White House

Aiming to fill two vacancies on D.C. Superior Court, the District's Judicial Nominations Commission forwarded six names to the White House for consideration. President Clinton will relay two nominations to the U.S. Senate within two months.

The nominees for one judgeship are Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, 38, a Superior Court hearing commissioner; Jeanette J. Clark, 51, a lawyer for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and former housing authority attorney; and Mellie L. Nelson, 53, a senior lawyer in the Justice Department's civil rights division.

The nominees for the second judgeship are Erias A. Hyman, 55, a former D.C. Parole Board chairman now at the Commerce Department; Thomas J. Motley, 45, chief assistant to U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis; and J. Michael Ryan, 42, a Public Defender Service lawyer specializing in mental health issues.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"We've gotten calls from all over Maryland, and we end up commiserating because we, too, are very concerned about this. This is a case that just screams out for something to be done."

-- Kristin A. Riggin, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, on the legality of home burial in the state, which offers a potential loophole for parents to cover up child-abuse deaths.