THE DISTRICT

School Workers Evacuated After Gas Leak

Construction crews severed a gas main in Southeast Washington yesterday morning, causing the evacuation of about 75 teachers and administrators from Anacostia Senior High School, fire officials said.

Workers using a backhoe broke the three-inch gas line about 8:30 a.m. behind the school, in the 1600 block of 16th Street SE. Washington Gas crews were able to cap the main by about 9:45 a.m., fire officials said.

Fire officials said nobody was injured, although one resident suffered an asthma attack.

That person was taken to George Washington University Hospital for treatment, officials said.

VIRGINIA

Track Project Will Cause VRE Delays

VRE riders will face more delays when a second track construction project begins next month.

CSX will start by replacing railroad ties between the L'Enfant and Alexandria stations. Every Sunday through Wednesday nights, crews will work on the tracks. And Virginia Railway Express officials said delays of up to 30 minutes can be expected.

Once that work is done, by mid-September, crews will focus on the stretch between Woodbridge and Fredericksburg.

Mindful of the nightmare this month on the Fredericksburg Line, VRE officials said CSX has promised to have on-site inspectors supervising the work. A number of freight trains also will be rerouted.

Group Fined for Misleading Seniors

A conservative advocacy group misled senior citizens with bulk mailings designed to resemble urgent letters from the Social Security Administration, a federal appeals court said yesterday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a $554,000 fine imposed by an administrative law judge against the United Seniors Association.

The appeals court said the group's mailings violated the Social Security Act's prohibition against the misuse of symbols, emblems or names that could confuse Social Security recipients.

The group claimed that the Social Security Act's prohibition against deceptive communications does not cover envelopes alone and said the contents must be examined along with the envelope to determine whether the mailing could be misleading.

The court disagreed, ruling that "once a recipient of a misleading envelope opens the envelope and begins reading its contents, the deceptive 'communication' has served its purpose."

MARYLAND

Gas Leak Shuts Down White Flint Mall

Authorities evacuated hundreds of people from White Flint Mall in North Bethesda late yesterday afternoon after workers for a cable company drilled into a gas main, which leaked fumes into the building, Montgomery County fire officials said. The mall remained closed for nearly four hours.

A hazmat crew was called about 5 p.m. to the 11300 block of Rockville Pike after the leak was reported from a road near Bloomingdale's, said Pete Piringer, a fire department spokesman. The leak in the three-inch main occurred near ventilation units, which allowed fumes to seep into the building.

No one was injured or complained of symptoms from the leak, Piringer said.

The mall reopened shortly before 8 p.m.

Youth Violence Forum to Be Held Sunday

Montgomery County Council President Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) will hold a community forum on youth violence at 2 p.m. Sunday.

It will be held on the seventh floor of the Montgomery County Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville.

Those wishing to give testimony should call 301-718-0707.

State Budget Surplus Nearly $1.2 Billion

The state finished fiscal 2005 with a surplus of nearly $1.2 billion, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) said yesterday.

An estimated amount of more than $1 billion was touted last month by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Schaefer said lawmakers already appropriated $571 million of the surplus in the state's fiscal 2006 budget, leaving $603 million available for future operations.

Schaefer said that the surplus was bolstered by strong growth in tax revenue but that "it's not likely that the economy will keep up this high level of performance for the long term."

Dog That Bolted From Plane Found Safe

Officials in Anne Arundel County have found a golden retriever that went missing for more than a week on the grounds of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, officials said yesterday. The dog, Buddy, disappeared as airline workers prepared to load him onto a flight to Arizona. He apparently chewed his way out of his crate and slipped away just as workers were moving him to the airplane.

Animal control officers and BWI workers set up humane traps around the airport grounds, hoping to catch Buddy, and he was found unharmed in one of them yesterday morning. His owner, Courtney Vail, said she's grateful that he's safe.

Continental Airlines took Buddy to a veterinarian, and he's doing fine. He is staying at the Anne Arundel County Animal Control Facility and will be groomed before he heads home to Arizona.

Murder Conspiracy Retrial Is Moved

The retrial in a Montgomery County murder conspiracy case is scheduled to begin Sept. 26 in Frederick County.

The trial of lawyer Elsa D. Newman, 53, was moved this week to Frederick at the request of the defense.

Newman is accused of arranging to have her friend Margery Landry kill her estranged husband, Arlen J. Slobodow, at his home in Bethesda in 2002. Slobodow was shot in the leg but foiled the attack.

At Newman's first trial in 2002, prosecutors alleged that she wanted Slobodow killed so she could get custody of their two sons. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but her conviction was overturned in December.

Newman is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder, among other charges.

"Kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them in harm's way, deserve to come back to 21st-century medical care."

-- Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the federal base closure commission

that voted yesterday to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center

and expand the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda to create

a "world-class flagship facility" bearing Reed's name. -- A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Del Quentin Wilber, Clarence Williams and John Wagner and the Associated Press.