VIRGINIA

U-Va. Chief Defends Admissions Policy

University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III defended the school's use of race in admissions decisions yesterday, but he also supported efforts by the U-Va. Board of Visitors to look for other ways to encourage minority enrollment.

In an open letter to the university community, Casteen said the effort to maintain a fair and legal admissions system has been hurt by "a scandalous lack of clarity in the law."

Casteen said giving preference to minority applicants in some circumstances has produced a strong and diverse university. But he added that the school's new efforts to encourage more minority applicants may become essential to maintaining minority enrollment if the U.S. Supreme Court declares such admissions preferences to be unconstitutional.

Group Criticizes Davis's High-Tech Ties

A campaign finance watchdog group gave Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) one of its annual "Golden Leash" awards for his connections to the high-technology industry.

High-tech companies have contributed $109,286 to Davis's campaigns since 1993, and the 11th District congressman is leading an effort to recruit 100 computer executives to contribute to the National Republican Campaign Committee, Public Campaign said yesterday.

The group said Davis helped win passage of legislation making it harder for consumers to sue the computer industry for damages caused by the Y2K computer problem. Davis also voted for tax breaks for the industry.

A spokesman said Davis is a champion of Northern Virginia's booming high-tech industry. "We don't look at this as a dubious honor at all. We look at it as a badge of honor," David Marin said.

Arlington Rifle Team Finds New Home

The rifle team at Arlington's Yorktown High School, forced to leave the basement rifle range at the school after the School Board voted 3 to 2 in July to close the range, will practice this year at a private facility in Annandale, officials said.

Team coaches said they were unsure how many students would accept the inconvenience of a 30-minute drive to the Annandale range twice a week. But the coaches said they hoped to have a full team for the winter sports season.

A board majority agreed to turn the school range into storage space and make room for more classrooms after School Superintendent Robert G. Smith said he thought it was inappropriate to use rifles at a public school, even as a sport.

THE REGION

Cardinal Hickey Suffers Dehydration

Roman Catholic Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Arlington Diocese will preside at the annual Red Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington on Sunday in the absence of Cardinal James A. Hickey, who was hospitalized this week for dehydration, a church spokeswoman said.

The Mass asks God's blessing and guidance for U.S. Supreme Court justices and other government officials.

Hickey was hospitalized overnight while visiting Rome for a meeting of Catholic University's Board of Trustees, spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said. The head of Washington Archdiocese is not seriously ill, she added.

Hickey will return home today or tomorrow, Gibbs said.

Banneker Memorial Site Clears Hurdle

The National Capital Memorial Commission has approved a site at the midpoint of L'Enfant Plaza Promenade SW for a monument to Benjamin Banneker, helping the organization promoting construction of a Banneker memorial to clear its first major hurdle.

In July, the commission rejected a different site selected by the Washington Interdependence Council to memorialize the African American inventor and self-taught mathematician who helped survey the capital in the 1790s. The new site won commission approval last week.

Council President Peggy C. Seats must get the site approved by the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission before a design can be considered.

THE DISTRICT

Officers Back in Station House

Officers who were forced to leave the 1st Police District headquarters Sept. 23 because of a persistent underground gasoline spill were allowed back last night as the city planned to test the air inside to make sure it is free of dangerous fumes.

Officers assigned to the station in the 400 block of Fourth Street SW had been working out of a substation at Fifth and E streets SE. Some officers were allowed in the headquarters over the weekend but had to leave again when gasoline fumes were detected.

City officials said the air will be tested every six hours for the next two weeks while a permanent monitoring system is installed.

The city health department is investigating the possibility that two underground tanks once used to store fuel for patrol cars were overfilled over a 17-year period and contaminated the surrounding soil, said Theodore J. Gordon, deputy director of health for environmental health.

MARYLAND

Warning Lifted on Somerset County Creek

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene lifted its warning yesterday that advised boaters and others to exercise caution when using a portion of Back Creek in Somerset County.

On Aug. 18, officials urged the public to be careful along a 2 1/2-mile stretch of the creek after three people reported skin irritations or flulike symptoms that could have been related to the microbe Pfiesteria piscicida, which sickened people and killed thousands of fish in waterways off the Chesapeake Bay in 1997.

Medical tests ruled out pfiesteria in two of the individuals but could not rule it out as a possibility for the third, officials said. That person is continuing to be evaluated by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Health officials said there have been no further reports of anyone getting sick in the area, nor have there been any signs of sick fish.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We live in a middle-class family in Montgomery County. How could this happen? If it could happen in my family and in my community, it could happen anywhere." -- Cheryl Etchison, mother of 16-year-old Aaron Goldfarb, who was sentenced

yesterday to life in prison for stabbing a 15-year-old to death, a crime that a judge called "extraordinarily cruel." -- Page B1.