Ramp Opening in Wilson Bridge Project

As part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction project, a portion of a new Interstate 295 ramp is scheduled to open before this afternoon's rush hour, bridge officials said yesterday.

The ramp will take motorists from I-295's southbound lanes to the Capital Beltway's inner loop. Drivers will merge onto the ramp about 600 feet sooner than where they previously merged. The remainder of the ramp is planned to open in the spring, when the project's first span is scheduled to open.

Project officials also said yesterday that the ramps connecting Route 1 to the inner loop are scheduled to close this weekend from 5:30 a.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Monday, and next weekend from 5:30 a.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Monday.

Drivers will be detoured to Telegraph Road, where they can get to the inner loop.

Project officials said the closures are needed to permit work on a Route 1 ramp that connects to the outer loop.

Fundraising for Family of Stricken Mother

Fundraisers are planned for today in the District and Saturday in Manassas to benefit the family of Susan Torres, who was about 16 weeks pregnant when she was declared brain-dead in May. She remains hooked to a ventilator in the hope she can deliver a healthy baby.

Garrett's Restaurant and Railroad Tavern at 3003 M Street NW will host a happy hour from 7 to 9 tonight. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Torres family, whose insurance covers only some of the hospital bill, which has exceeded $1 million.

Seton High School -- which Susan Torres's husband, Jason, attended -- will sponsor a basketball tournament at 7 p.m. Saturday at Osbourn Park High School, 8909 Euclid Ave. in Manassas. There will be a raffle, contests and a lottery for a car. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, with a $30 "family" maximum.

Jason Torres's brother, Justin, said yesterday that the pregnancy is progressing well.

Sonograms and other tests at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington show that the 26-week fetus is where it should be developmentally and that the mother's melanoma has not reached the placenta.


New Ads in Fight Over Malpractice Awards

A national association of health insurance companies launched an ad campaign yesterday in the District to foster public support for legislation capping jury awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.

The campaign, part of a national effort by America's Health Insurance Plans, was unveiled by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) at his weekly news conference.

Williams, who introduced the legislation this year, has made it a top priority during his second term, contending that out-of-control jury awards are driving up premiums for medical malpractice insurance to unaffordable levels for District doctors.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who chairs the council's health care committee, has agreed to hold hearings this fall.

The ads will appear on buses and in Metro stations.

The campaign's premise is that skyrocketing insurance premiums, jury awards and the practice of "defensive medicine" add as much as $250 million a year to the health care bills of city residents. "With the money D.C. residents will spend this year on the medical liability crisis, the District could hire 4,728 new teachers," one ad claims.

Williams rebuffed suggestions that those claims are misleading because the dollars at issue are not public funds.


C&O Search Ended After Stroller Found

Authorities searched for more than four hours yesterday but investigators said they do not believe there is anything suspicious about a baby stroller found in the C&O Canal in the Glen Echo area.

Montgomery County fire authorities said crews fanned out for 300 yards in all directions from where the stroller was found yesterday morning.

Other than the stroller, some adult clothes and some burned materials, nothing else was found, and the search was called off, authorities said.

A Park Police officer discovered the stroller.


Plan to Combine 2 Schools Advances

The Virginia Board of Education moved ahead yesterday with a plan to consolidate the state's two residential schools for the deaf and blind but did not decide where to locate the new school.

Enrollment has been dropping for years at the two historic schools, in Staunton and Hampton, but combining them has been the subject of contentious debate for two decades.

The Staunton school, which was founded as a school for white children in 1838, offers a K-12 curriculum. The Hampton school, which opened in 1909 for black children, focuses mostly on teaching living skills to more severely disabled students.

The General Assembly has agreed to pay $61.5 million to build a new school if a private company agreed to partner with the state on the project.

Yesterday, the Board of Education chose developer Trammell Crow, which has proposed several options for a new school, including renovating the Staunton school or building a school in Staunton, Richmond or Charlottesville.

The board did not choose an option, instead directing the developer to add the option of a site in Hampton.

Fairfax's First Sign of West Nile Virus

Fairfax health officials yesterday reported the first sign this year of West Nile virus activity in the county.

Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the county health director, said a mosquito pool collected July 21 in the Lee District tested positive for the virus -- the first of 3,000 pools and 34,000 mosquitoes collected this year to test positive.

In past years, such positive pools were discovered earlier in the mosquito season.

Since 2002, the county has had 17 cases and two deaths as a result of West Nile virus.

"To get a billion-and-a-half dollars out of my colleagues, they're not going to leave this thing up to the District and the Virginia and Maryland locals."

-- Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, on planned transit system legislation that would add two seats to the Metro board of directors for representatives of the federal government. -- A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Steven Ginsberg, Rosalind S. Helderman, Stephanie McCrummen and Lori Montgomery and the Associated Press.