MARYLAND

Ehrlich Expects Malpractice Rates to Rise

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said yesterday he has no doubt that state regulators will approve a pending request for a hefty increase in doctors' malpractice insurance premiums.

The Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland, which insures about 85 percent of the state's doctors, is seeking approval from the Maryland Insurance Administration for an average 41 percent rate increase next year. The independent agency is scheduled to begin two days of hearings on the insurer's request today in Baltimore.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the insurance commissioner is going to approve this rate increase," Ehrlich told more than 100 doctors gathered yesterday in Salisbury.

Ehrlich's visit was the latest in a series of appearances intended to enlist doctors' support in lobbying for malpractice reforms in Annapolis. Ehrlich is seeking new limits on jury awards as one way to stabilize doctors' rates.

Activists Fight Pr. George's Appointments

A group of community activists is urging the Prince George's County Council to help remove two recent appointees of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D).

This month, Johnson announced that he had selected Keith Washington as his deputy director of homeland security. Washington is a police corporal who was temporarily suspended in January after an off-duty scuffle and is facing an internal investigation.

Washington's selection was announced days after Johnson named Lt. Col. Darrell Odom as acting fire chief, replacing Ronald Blackwell. Odom has three arrests and one conviction for simple assault in his past.

Washington's appointment is not subject to council approval; Odom's appointment could come before the council if he remains in the job for a number of months.

"Our objections to these proposed appointments are in no way meant to reflect upon the ability of the individuals named to perform their appointed tasks," the letter reads. "Rather we simply believe that Prince George's residents expect appointments to senior-level positions in Prince George's County to be above reproach. . . . We urge the council to consider the message it would send to residents, the business community, and surrounding jurisdictions if these appointments stand."

Jim Keary, a spokesman for Johnson, said he could not comment.

GOP Wants Special Session on Slots Bill

Republican members of the Maryland House of Delegates called yesterday for a special session of the General Assembly so that their chamber might pass a Senate version of a bill legalizing slot machine gambling.

The move came one day after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) officially rejected a slots proposal drafted by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). Ehrlich objected to Busch's plan in part because it requires a constitutional amendment to legalize gambling machines.

House Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) called Busch's proposal "another cynical ploy to ring the death knell of slots in Maryland."

O'Donnell said there is strong support among the 43 Republican members of the House for a slots bill that does not require amending the constitution and has passed the Senate twice in recent years. O'Donnell said he is confident that enough Democratic votes could be mustered for the measure to pass the 141-member House.

Busch said that he remains committed to a statewide vote on slots, a process that requires amending the constitution. Ehrlich acknowledged to reporters that a special session appears unlikely.

Woman Found Dead in Drainage Ditch

An unidentified woman was found dead in a highway drainage ditch in Frederick County yesterday, Maryland State Police said.

Investigators are not certain whether the woman was the victim of a hit-and-run accident along Route 340, just east of Route 17, or whether the case involves foul play, said Cpl. Rob Moroney, a police spokesman. An autopsy will be conducted.

A road construction worker found the body about 11:30 a.m. while inspecting a rocky drainage ditch about 20 feet down a hillside. The woman, who was white, had dark hair and was estimated to be 30 to 40. She was wearing blue jeans, a white undershirt, a plaid shirt, black boots and a leather jacket.

THE region

Botanic Garden Conservatory Offers Tours

The U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory on the Mall will host tours of its terrace exhibit on plants and pollinators from noon to 1 p.m. Sept. 3. The exhibit emphasizes the importance of pollinators -- such as bats, bees and butterflies -- and provides tips on how to grow plants that attract different pollinators in the area.

The tours are free but require registration. To register, call 202-226-4082 or visit www.usbg.gov/education/events.

VIRGINIA

New Buses Can Extend Green Lights

New express buses coming to one of Northern Virginia's fastest-growing corridors will include technology that every commuter would want: the ability to extend green lights.

Metro, Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria are teaming up to offer the Richmond Highway Express bus service -- nicknamed REX -- beginning Sept. 26, transportation officials said.

The blue and purple buses adorned with a golden lion logo will include technology that can automatically extend green lights up to 10 seconds so buses can move more quickly along the congested Route 1 corridor.

Springfield Woman Killed in Crash

A Springfield woman was killed yesterday morning when she lost control of her car on the Fairfax County Parkway in the Fairfax Station area and crashed into oncoming traffic, Fairfax police said.

Rafieh Roudzard Freshteh, 48, of the 9000 block of Maritime Court in West Springfield was driving a 1999 Buick Century northbound, just north of Ox Road, when she crossed the median and her car struck a 1999 Toyota Tacoma, investigators said.

The Toyota driver, William Rocco, 61, of Springfield, was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Police said both drivers were wearing seat belts. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

"It defies all nursing standards and common sense to place a child that needs emergent care on an hour-long bus ride with buried instructions for the parent to seek emergency medical treatment."

-- Nurse investigator Andrea Procaccino, speaking about Cindy Alvarado, a sick disabled girl who died after being put on a D.C. school bus. -- Page A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Arielle Levin-Becker, Leef Smith, John Wagner, Clarence Williams and Ovetta Wiggins and the Associated Press.