VIRGINIA

Rep. Pickett Announces Retirement

U.S. Rep. Owen B. Pickett (D-Va.), a longtime defender of military bases in Hampton Roads, announced his retirement yesterday after seven terms in Congress, dealing a surprise blow to Democrats' efforts to retake the House of Representatives in 2000.

Pickett, 69, who was elected in 1986 to Congress after 16 years in the Virginia House of Delegates, said that "29 years of public service is long enough" and that the nation is prosperous and safe, according to state Democratic Party chief Craig Bieber.

Pickett, of Virginia Beach, was state party chairman in 1981, when Charles S. Robb (D) was elected governor. He made a brief, unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1982 and retires as senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, handily reelected Pickett over the years but increasingly leans Republican. The seat is expected to be difficult for Democrats to hold this year when they attempt to overcome the GOP's majority.

Chase Ends With Police Shooting

Police near Richmond shot and killed a man early yesterday after a chase on Interstate 95.

The pursuit began in Richmond about 1:15 a.m. after police tried to stop the man for driving a van without its headlights on, said state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

During the chase, the van ran at least two police vehicles off the highway. A third police vehicle forced the van off the road near the Virginia 10 interchange south of Richmond in suburban Chesterfield County.

As police closed in around the van, the driver rammed another police vehicle and revved his engine repeatedly, Geller said. At about 1:35 a.m., one state trooper and two Richmond officers fired into the van, killing the driver, Geller said.

The dead man was identified as James Linwood Rice III, of Henrico County. No officers were injured. The chase and shooting forced the closing of Interstate 95 about 10 miles south of Richmond for several hours.

Dispute Leads to TV Program Change

Fairfax County cable customers watching the New Year's Eve celebrations on WTTG (Channel 5) last night suddenly found themselves watching a rerun of "Young Frankenstein" because of a dispute between the Fox Television network and Cox Cable.

Cox dropped the Fox 5 signal at midnight after negotiations between the two companies failed to reach agreement on a deal to allow the cable company to transmit the local station in exchange for agreeing to run two Fox specialty channels on its systems nationwide.

Cox scrolled a brief explanation across the bottom of the screen. It read: "Fox 5 has suspended the transmission of its programming on Cox Cable. We are airing a sample of Starz Family as negotiations continue. Contact 814-4500 for details."

Fox had said it will run ads in today's newspapers blaming the stalemate on Cox. A Fox spokesman said Cox had refused to accept a deal that every other local cable network and satellite provider had already agreed to. Cox officials have said the Fox television company was holding Fairfax customers hostage.

MARYLAND

Child With Matches Suspected in Fire

A 5-year-old playing with matches may have sparked the fire in Prince George's County on Thursday that leveled an apartment building and sent nine people to the hospital, fire officials said yesterday.

Firefighters at the Silver Hill Volunteer Fire Department said that was the conclusion investigators favored after picking through debris at the Carriage Hill Apartments in the 3300 block of Curtis Drive in Temple Hills.

Capt. Mark Brady, a county fire spokesman, said the investigation wasn't complete, but investigators are leaning toward the 5-year-old's curiosity with matches as a cause.

If the child is found responsible for the blaze, counseling for the youth would be a likely result of the investigation, Brady said.

The blaze started about 10 a.m. in a first-floor apartment, Brady said. It took 75 firefighters about 90 minutes to extinguish the fire, which destroyed the 12-unit building, he said. Two blasts fueled by medicinal oxygen tanks and ruptured gas lines leveled the building. Damage was estimated at $1 million.

THE DISTRICT

Leaking Water Main Under Repair in NW

A water main began leaking yesterday beneath a downtown Washington street, and repair work continued late into the night, authorities said.

Libby Lawson, a spokeswoman for the city's water authority, said the damage to what she believed was a 16-inch-diameter main occurred on H Street NW, between Eighth and Ninth streets, and necessitated a closing of part of the area to traffic for a time.

Efforts continued late last night, she said, to shut down nearby valves to make possible repairs to the main. She said the situation was complicated by the intricacy of the network of utility ducts and cables in the area. There was no loss of water service, she said.

City Jail Gets Management Team

The D.C. Department of Corrections has named a new management team for the city jail.

Patricia Britton-Jackson, a 17-year veteran of the department, was named warden. Previously, she served as warden of the Occoquan facility and in the office of the director, supervising overtime expenditures and the management of the District's Community Release Program, the statement said.

The other team members announced were: Donald Jones, acting deputy warden for operations; Diane Howell-Derricott, acting deputy warden for programs; Judy Lyons, acting deputy director for support services; Emmette McCormick Jr., acting major for administration; and Gregory Manigualt, acting major for operations.

Their appointments take effect Monday.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The triple zeros that mark the millennial year

are like three spheres

Or lights or chain-links. As the centuries pass,

Past, Present and Future, victims, villains and heroes,

Each crosses the calendar border and disappears--

Or lives in Memory, that numbers all the years."

-- from "A Toast to 2000" by Robert Pinsky, the nation's poet laureate.