Decision Due on Commerce Reopening

Commerce Department officials expect to announce today when they will reopen the agency's headquarters, which had to be evacuated Friday after an electrical transformer exploded and released a cancer-causing liquid.

Morrie Goodman, Commerce public affairs director, said yesterday that the agency was awaiting test results.

The explosion and fire were confined to the basement of the 1.6 million-square-foot building on 14th Street NW. After some employees became ill, firefighters learned the transformer contained polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Forty-eight people, including 10 firefighters, were taken to George Washington University Hospital for decontamination. Most were released Friday; the last few were discharged yesterday.

A recording on the Commerce information number said the building would be closed through the weekend. It said employees should "anticipate" returning to work tomorrow and advised calling back for updates. The number is 202-482-2000.

City Nears Deadline on Hospital

A panel appointed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to find ways to save the financially struggling Greater Southeast Community Hospital called an emergency meeting yesterday to determine whether the city will put up more money to keep the hospital afloat or sell the its assets to satisfy creditors, according to a Williams spokesman.

U.S. bankruptcy Judge S. Martin Teel Jr. has given the city until Tuesday to present a plan. The city already has lent the Greater Southeast Healthcare System, the nonprofit foundation that runs the 286-bed facility, $8.5 million since spring to keep the hospital going. However, creditors are seeking more than $70 million in debt payments, and they say the hospital continues to hemorrhage money.

Construction Accident Kills Worker

A 47-year-old construction worker was crushed and killed yesterday at a construction site at 16th and R streets NW, police said.

The man was identified as John Arthur Walker, 47, of Kinsale, Va., according to a spokesman at Howard University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The spokesman said Walker was unloading a truck at the construction site for the Regent Luxury Residences shortly after 7 a.m. when a beam fell on him.

Man Fatally Shot in Columbia Heights

A 22-year-old man was shot and killed last night in the Columbia Heights area of Northwest, D.C. police said.

The man, whose identity was not disclosed, was shot by a man who approached him on the 700 block of Girard Street NW, Lt. Michael Smith said.


Group Protests Job Privatization

About 300 families rallied outside the Lockheed Martin headquarters in Bethesda yesterday to protest the loss of jobs to privatization, according to organizers of the March of the Americas.

Cheri Honkola, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania-based group, said protesters included workers who lost jobs when the government hired private companies to do the work of government employees.

Woman Abducted, Raped in Columbia

A Columbia woman was raped after being abducted at knifepoint Friday night as she was getting out of her vehicle near her residence in the Kings Contrivance area, according to Howard County police.

They said the attacker drove the woman to a location on Gorman Road and raped her, then drove her back and fled.

Man Admits to Exposing Himself

A Gaithersburg man pleaded guilty Friday to exposing himself to six children in Rockville and Gaithersburg in three incidents from October 1998 through March, authorities said.

Lorento Alexander Couch, 22, pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent exposure. Montgomery County Assistant State's Attorney Kathy Knight said Couch, a house painter, had driven around neighborhoods in a blue van he used for work and exposed himself to children as they walked down the street.

Prosecutors agreed to seek no more than 18 months in jail when Couch is sentenced Nov. 16, Knight said. Couch was ordered held until sentencing.


Man Injured; Metrorail Service Disrupted

An unidentified man was critically injured last night on the tracks in the East Falls Church station of Metro's Orange Line, suspending rail service at that point for about two hours, a Metro spokeswoman said.

The man, who was taken to the burn unit at Washington Hospital Center, may have touched the electrified third rail, the spokeswoman said. He also may have been struck by a train during the 7:40 p.m. incident, which is under investigation, she said.

Environmental Pluses to Pay Off

Developers in Arlington will be allowed to construct larger buildings if they make them energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, under a pilot program unanimously approved by the County Board yesterday.

The U.S. Green Building Council would apply a rating system to development plans. Specific amenities might include energy-efficient lighting, use of recycled materials for construction and enhanced tree planting and erosion control around the building.

The three-year pilot program, which county officials said is the first of its kind in the region, is to start in April.

Alexandria Plans Transit Center

Alexandria may add a transit and visitors center at its King Street Amtrak and Metro stop, with funding in the current federal transportation appropriations bill.

The bill, which awaits a final U.S. Senate vote, would provide $1.5 million for the center, the total cost of which would be about $5 million, city officials said. They said the center eventually would include shuttle bus service to Old Town to ease traffic flow there.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "If the customers have considered and read the

communications that have been put out for them and if the customers follow the new guidelines, everything should work well." -- Steve Baldacci, senior vice president in the marketing firm of Redskins

owner Daniel M. Snyder, on new parking procedures in effect at Redskins Stadium today. Page C1.