THE REGION

New Rte. 1 Ramp to Beltway Opens

A new ramp to the Capital Beltway's outer loop from northbound Route 1 in Alexandria opened about 1 p.m. yesterday. It will help motorists make their way around construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The ramp allows Route 1 north traffic to directly merge onto the Beltway instead of having to merge with Route 1 south traffic.

Escalator Smoke Shuts Metro Station

Smoke from a malfunctioning escalator motor forced authorities to close the Capitol South Metro station yesterday afternoon for about an hour, fire officials said.

No one was hurt in the incident, which happened at 2:45 p.m., fire officials said.

Trains continued to run along the Orange and Blue lines but were not permitted to pick up or drop off passengers at the Capitol South stop, fire officials said. Authorities reopened the station to commuters about 3:50 p.m.

THE DISTRICT

DMV Officials Change Reinspection Rules

D.C. residents whose vehicles fail inspection may no longer have them reinspected at private neighborhood service stations but must do so at the city's Southwest facility, Department of Motor Vehicles officials said yesterday.

DMV officials said they suspended their arrangements yesterday with 14 service stations, which had access to the department's system and database, because the agency is installing new inspection hardware and software. The upgrade, which is to be completed over the next 18 months, is necessary to ensure more accurate results, especially of newer-model vehicles, and should reduce inspection equipment problems, they said.

Private service stations accounted for less than one percent of reinspections and were authorized to charge $25 for the service, which is free at the city's Southwest inspection station. DMV officials said they will study whether to reinstate the private inspection services after the upgrade is complete.

The Southwest inspection station, at 1001 Half St., is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

School Voucher Demand Skyrockets

The D.C. school voucher program has reached full capacity in its second year of operation, with 1,733 students attending private schools through the taxpayer-funded scholarships, officials said yesterday.

But 47 students who won vouchers this spring were unable to use them because there were not enough high school spaces. And program administrators said the shortage could worsen, hurting efforts to evaluate the impact of vouchers on achievement.

Under the $14 million-a-year program, low-income D.C. children receive federally funded grants of up to $7,500 each to cover tuition and other expenses at private and religious schools in the city.

About 700 vouchers went unused in the 2004-05 school year because of a lack of applicants. Administrators said they had little time to publicize the program. This year, there were 1.7 applications for each voucher.

The number of voucher slots being offered by private high schools is low because their tuition is often much higher than the $7,500 maximum amount of the federal grant.

MARYLAND

2 Die in Clinton Fire; Clutter Hinders Rescue

A man and a woman in their sixties died late yesterday in a fire inside a Clinton house that was littered with trash and clutter, Prince George's County authorities said.

The two residents, both physically challenged, were unable to get out of the house in the 10800 block of Tippett Road after the fire broke out about 6 p.m., said Mark Brady, spokesman for the county's Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department.

Firefighters' rescue efforts were hindered by the heavy smoke and clutter, he said.

Both victims were found unconscious in hallways in the one-story house. The man died at the scene, and rescue workers were unable to revive the woman as she was transported to a nearby hospital, Brady said.

A person driving by spotted the fire and called authorities on a cell phone.

The cause of the fire, which took about 15 minutes to extinguish, was under investigation, Brady said.

Double the Cigarette Tax, Coalition Urges

A statewide coalition of health care groups yesterday proposed doubling the state cigarette tax from $1 to $2 a pack, with the additional revenue to be used for anti-smoking campaigns and expansion of health care for low-income residents.

A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that more than 800,000 state residents lack health insurance, said Vincent DeMarco, president of Health Care for All, a coalition member. A bill to double the tax will be introduced at the legislative session that begins in January. DeMarco said it would bring in about $150 million a year.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. opposes a cigarette tax increase, spokesman Henry Fawell said. Higher cigarette prices would send Maryland dollars directly into Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania as smokers seek cheaper cigarettes, he said.

VIRGINIA

Death of Woman Found in Pool Suspicious

Police yesterday identified the woman found dead in a North Arlington swimming pool Sunday afternoon as Megan Criste, 22, who was last seen alive in that neighborhood several hours earlier.

Criste, a Burke resident, was found by the owner of the home in the 1700 block of North Adams Street, in Lyon Park, about 3:45 p.m. An autopsy is being completed.

Matt Martin, an Arlington County police spokesman, said the homeowner did not know Criste. It was unknown how long Criste had been in the pool, but she was last seen alive between 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. in Lyon Park.

Martin said detectives are investigating the death as suspicious. He asked that anyone in the Lyon Park, Clarendon-Courthouse or Lyon Village areas between 1 and 6 a.m. Sunday who might have seen Criste call Arlington police at 703-228-4195.

"He was a piece of living history."

-- Mary E. Brown, a friend of Mark Matthews, a 111-year-old Buffalo Soldier

who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. -- B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Del Quentin Wilber, D'Vera Cohn, V. Dion Haynes, Allan Lengel and Jamie Stockwell and the Associated Press.

Megan Criste was found dead Sunday in a pool.