Package at Mayflower Called Bomb Hoax

About 350 employees and guests of the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington were forced outside on a sweltering day after a suspicious package was discovered at 12:45 p.m. by an employee. The package was later destroyed by police.

Hotel security called 911, and bomb technicians and dogs were called to examine the package, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department. Etter said that before police were called, someone in the hotel transported the package from one part of the building to the basement, where it was examined by authorities.

"It looked like a real bomb," Etter said, declining to describe the package in detail. But when police hit it with a water cannon, the package did not explode.

"It was found to be a hoax," he said.

Employees and guests stood for several hours outside police lines that had been set up in the area of the hotel, which is on Connecticut Avenue NW between L and M streets. Several employees complained about the heat and the fact that no one had given them any information. After leaving, police returned briefly to investigate another report of a suspicious package but found nothing.

Etter said the FBI has taken over the investigation into any possible links to terrorism.

the region

Amtrak, VRE Delays Expected Today

Some unfinished weekend work south of Quantico is expected to cause delays for train travelers today.

Amtrak said riders out of Washington's Union Station should expect delays that could run more than hour between the District and Richmond. Virginia Railway Express commuters out of Fredericksburg should expect similar delays.

VRE officials said the railway will operate on its "S" schedule on the Fredericksburg line this morning. Manassas trains will operate on their normal schedule.

CSX Transportation had planned to finish weekend track work and a signal system upgrade, but it wasn't completed in time to restore normal service by today.

Amtrak and VRE urged passengers to visit their company Web sites to check the status of their trains.


Eating Champ Downs 44 Lobsters in Win

Sonya Thomas, the 98-pound speed-eating marvel from Alexandria, has won another contest by gobbling down 44 lobsters in 12 minutes in Kennebunk, Maine.

Thomas consumed more than 11 pounds of lobster meat, breaking the state record set last year by more than a pound.

Her performance Saturday came a week after she gorged on bratwurst and grilled cheese sandwiches in eating contests in Wisconsin and San Diego, winning both.

Thomas has earned $50,000 this year on the competitive eating circuit. Next weekend, she will compete in a crab cake competition in Delaware.

Oak Tree Deaths Tied to 2003 Hurricanes

Arborists say that the demise of hundreds of oak trees in central and eastern Virginia -- many of them older than 100 -- is due to drought conditions the trees suffered for several years before a drenching from hurricanes in 2003. This summer's high temperatures have further stressed the trees, causing them to die.

"If you track the path of Isabel, that's exactly where these trees are dying," said Dean Smith, a forestry technician at the Goochland County office of the Virginia Department of Forestry.

When hurricanes Isabel and Gaston created floods, it was difficult for the trees to breathe because they didn't have smaller roots to find air pockets in the soil. Then, roots began dying, opening the door for destructive fungi and other organisms, and killing the tissue that carries water to the rest of the tree.

Finally, last month's 100-degree weather hit the oaks when they needed water, killing them off quickly.

The forestry department has received dozens of calls about "hundreds of dead or dying oak trees" in eastern Virginia.


Boy, 17, Found After Wheelchair Accident

A 17-year-old Bowie youth who uses a wheelchair and was reported missing by his family Saturday night was found yesterday morning after spending the night in a ditch.

Raymond Leonso was going down a bike path near his home when he lost control of his wheelchair as the path dipped down a hill, said Cpl. Diane Richardson, a Prince George's County police spokeswoman. His wheelchair flipped over and pinned him, she said.

He was last seen by his family about 8 p.m. Saturday outside his home in the 3000 block of Athens Circle. By 10:30 p.m., unable to find him, they called police.

A canine unit and a police helicopter scoured the area all night. Leonso was found about 7:30 a.m. yesterday after a neighbor heard his cries for help.

"He was scared," Richardson said. "But otherwise, he was in good spirits. He was laughing with officers. Ultimately, it was a happy ending to what could have been a tragic situation."

"It's kind of a betrayal of the people who invested in the neighborhood. Part of the reason we moved here was green space."

-- Joe Riddle, a homeowner who opposes a proposal to rip up a D.C. park and build 98 townhouses to help revitalize a housing cooperative. -- B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Christian Davenport and Robert E. Pierre and the Associated Press.

Bomb technicians and dogs were called to examine a suspicious package at the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW. Police determined that it was not a bomb and destroyed it.