VIRGINIA

Death of Man in Alexandria Probed

Alexandria fire officials are investigating the death of a middle-aged man discovered yesterday morning by firefighters called to a Del Ray apartment because of a fire. After firefighters forced their way into the apartment in the 200 block of East Mason Ave., they discovered the body in a bedroom. There had been a fire in the room, but it had extinguished itself, officials said.

There was a smoke detector in the apartment, but officials said they did not know if it was operating, and they did not identify the dead man.

Shenandoah Becomes 'Speed' Hub

The Shenandoah Valley has become a mid-Atlantic hub for distribution of methamphetamine, a drug more commonly known by the street name "speed," authorities say.

The amount of speed seized in the region has soared in the past two years.

Between January and November 1999, a police anti-drug task force in the area confiscated about 22 pounds of methamphetamine with a street value of nearly $1 million.

"Our investigation has shown that this is basically becoming a hub area," said Sgt. Barry Wittig of the Rockingham County sheriff's department. "There's not enough people in this area to use all the products that we've been seizing."

Methamphetamine causes hyperactivity and euphoria. Police have found no consistent profile among buyers.

"We've gotten everyone from truckers, bikers to businessmen," said Lt. Garlan Gochenour, an investigator for the Shenandoah County sheriff's office. "There's nobody you wouldn't suspect with methamphetamine."

Authorities believe the valley influx originates from suppliers in Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers methamphetamine the nation's fastest-growing drug threat.

Fire May Be Work of Serial Arsonist

Charlottesville police believe a serial arsonist is responsible for a fire that destroyed a house under construction by Habitat for Humanity.

The blaze at the Habitat construction site is similar to arsons committed Dec. 20 and an attempted arson Dec. 21, police said.

Saturday's fire spread to two nearby homes. Diane Lewis, who is legally blind, and her fiance Raymond Braden escaped through a small window in her basement apartment.

Group Still Braced for Y2K Problems

They came to the hills of Floyd County from as far away as California, New York and Texas to escape the Year 2000 glitch.

And even though their fears of calamity appeared unwarranted as the year 2000 arrived with no disruptions in utility and computer service, residents of the Rivendell community aren't convinced the danger has passed.

"I'll wait three months before I think the coast is clear," said Ken Griffith, a 28-year-old former computer programmer who established the Christian, home-schooling enclave on a former dairy farm in Floyd County, south of Blacksburg.

"I don't feel like we can absolutely say there are no problems," said Meril Stanton, who moved to Rivendell from Houston with her husband, Doug, and six children last spring. "I heard someone say, 'Remember, the year 2000 is the year 2000, not just one day.' "

THE DISTRICT

Four Men Shot in Columbia Heights

One man was shot in the head and critically injured and three others suffered less serious wounds in a shooting in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Northwest Washington last night, D.C. police said.

The men, whose identities were unavailable last night, were shot at 13th and Fairmont streets NW around 10:20 p.m., police said. The man shot in the head was in critical condition at Howard University Hospital late last night, police said.

Two men suffered leg wounds, and another was shot in the arm. Their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, police said. No further details were available last night.

MARYLAND

Positioned for Electric Deregulation

The parent of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which is hoping to become the nation's first electric utility to re-license a nuclear power plant, plans to buy more nuclear power generating facilities. The move is a key part of the company's strategy to become a major power provider in the newly deregulated energy marketplace.

Constellation Energy Group plans to take advantage of bargain prices for nuclear plants. Prices have dropped as some utilities have chosen to focus on transmission rather than power generation and put their nuclear power plants up for sale.

Constellation Energy said it will shift Calvert Cliffs, a two-reactor nuclear plant in Southern Maryland, to a nonregulated subsidiary, Constellation Nuclear, when Maryland's electric market is deregulated July 1. The holding company will also include the country's first nuclear power plant re-licensing consulting firm, Constellation Nuclear Services, which began operating in August.

Critics say Constellation is putting profits before safety.

"What you see here is greed overcoming common sense," said Stephen Kohn, an attorney with the National Whistleblower Center, a citizen advocacy group in Washington that opposes the re-licensing of Calvert Cliffs.

A final decision on the relicensing of Calvert Cliffs is expected from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the first quarter of 2000.

Pedestrian Killed in Charles County

A Charles County man was struck and killed by a car Saturday as he crossed Route 210 near Shiloh Church Road about 7 p.m., Maryland State Police reported.

State police said Rodger Cox, 41, of Bryans Road was hit by a Toyota Corolla driven by Susan Gray, 28, of Alexandria. Cox was pronounced dead at Fort Washington Hospital.

Police said their initial investigation indicated Cox was at fault and that he may have been drinking. They said no charges have been filed against Gray.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"Most of my clients prefer to be pampered at home, instead of going in, getting a massage, getting dressed and then going home."

-- D.C.-based massage therapist Richard Brown about the growing demand for beauty services delivered to clients in their homes rather than at salons.