VIRGINIA

14 Treated As Gas Odor Empties Stores

Fourteen people were hospitalized briefly yesterday after being exposed to unidentified noxious fumes at a Front Royal shopping center, authorities said. About 34 others complained of headaches and nausea and were examined at the scene.

The odor forced the evacuation of about 20 stores, said Larry Oliver, deputy chief of the Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department.

Rescue crews responded about 1:30 p.m. to a call of an ill person at a Kmart store, the suspected origin of the odor, authorities said.

Several others in the shopping center also complained of feeling ill. Fourteen customers and employees were taken by ambulance to Warren Memorial Hospital, where they were treated and released, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"We could not find any sources [of the odor] at all," Oliver said. "We've checked all the gas [sources], sewers, manholes. No specific toxin was found."

Oliver said a private contractor was to monitor the air quality in the mall today.

Some stores never reopened yesterday, Oliver said. The 24-hour Farmer Jack and Martins Food supermarkets reopened about 7 p.m., employees said.

U-Turn Leads to Fatal Accident

A 54-year-old Alexandria driver was killed early yesterday when he made a U-turn into oncoming traffic on Duke Street and struck a vehicle occupied by two Fairfax County residents, Alexandria police said.

Moises Rodriguez Berrios was traveling east on Duke Street just after midnight when he made a U-turn at West Taylor Run Parkway, police said.

Berrios kept his 1984 Honda Civic in the eastbound lanes of traffic even after he began driving west. At Roth Street, the Civic struck an eastbound 1991 Mercury Sable driven by a 17-year-old. She and her passenger, a 20-year-old man, suffered minor injuries, police said.

They were taken by ambulance to Inova Fairfax Hospital along with Berrios, who was pronounced dead at 12:50 a.m.

Poll Finds Robb, Allen Neck and Neck

A poll shows Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) and former governor George Allen (R) in a dead heat for next year's Senate race.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch poll finds that Allen would get 42 percent of the vote and Robb 41 percent. Thirteen percent of those surveyed were undecided; 4 percent said they did not want either man to be a senator.

The poll, which interviewed 541 Virginians between Dec. 11 and Dec. 19, has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

"Senator Robb understands that this is going to be a tough race," said his spokesman, John DiBiase.

The Allen camp said the poll's findings were no surprise.

"The bottom line is, you're going to see polls showing us ahead and showing us behind," said Jay Timmons, Allen's spokesman. "It's a close race no matter how you cut it, and our end goal is to . . . be ahead in the end."

Robb may be improving his standing. An Old Dominion University survey last month showed Allen leading Robb by nearly 10 percentage points.

Plane Takes Highway's Exit Ramp

A small plane made an emergency landing on a highway exit ramp near Chesterfield Airport south of Richmond yesterday, crashing into a guardrail and injuring one of the three men aboard.

The injured passenger, Philip Stodick, was taken to Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond with injuries not believed to be life-threatening, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. The pilot and another passenger were not injured.

Police received word of the crash at 3:12 p.m., Geller said. The pilot detected engine problems in the four-seat, experimental aircraft shortly after takeoff and tried to return to the airport but was forced to land on the Route 10 west exit ramp off Route 288.

The plane was registered to the pilot, Damian L. Olivieri, 31. The other passenger was Jonathan T. Berardinelli, 24. The three men, all from Newport News, are military pilots, Geller said.

Congregations Offering Prayers for I-81

Thirteen churches, synagogues and prayer groups have signed up to pray for Shenandoah Valley travelers on the dangerous and congested Interstate 81.

"The Lord's name is being used out there a great deal on 81, but I don't think it's in prayer," said Peter Mullen, of Roanoke, who has been adding links to an I-81 prayer chain since July.

"Our goal is 325 churches, one for each mile of the interstate," he said. "You're out on the highway, and you see people struggling, and you see people in life-threatening situations."

State police have said that more and more fatal accidents along the highway result from congestion. Traffic has tripled in the last 25 years along I-81's route through western Virginia, from Winchester to Bristol. Trucks now account for 40 percent of the traffic, well above the 15 percent projected when the road was designed 30 years ago.

Mullen said he was motivated to start the community prayer chain during an I-81 safety meeting called by U.S. Reps. Robert W. Goodlatte and Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republicans whose districts include the interstate.

MARYLAND

Cecil County Crash Kills 4, Injures 2

Four people were killed and two others seriously injured in a Christmas accident in Cecil County that authorities attributed to alcohol, speeding and not buckling up.

Maryland State Police said that a Dodge Shadow loaded with six people and traveling up to 90 mph in a 35-mph zone lost control on a winding road in Cecil County and struck two trees. The impact split the car in half; three passengers were ejected.

Rear-seat passenger Roger Adams, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators were using fingerprints to try to identify the three others. License plates on the vehicle had been switched, further complicating the task.

Christopher Freimiller, 22, was in critical condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, and his sister Amanda Freimiller, 18, was listed as serious but stable.

All six occupants lived in Perryville in the same house or next door less than a mile from the crash site, state police said.

Maj. Greg Shipley said five of the six people in the car were not wearing seat belts. Another police spokesman said the unidentified driver had a strong odor of alcohol.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Kids are wonderful. I don't have any problem with the kids. My problems come from the adults."

-- Yvonne J. Morse, principal of Southeast Washington's Birney Elementary School, on how uninvolved parents and problems in the D.C. school system's bureaucracy undermine teaching efforts.