THE DISTRICT

AU Trustees Pick New Board Chairman

Gary M. Abramson, a partner in a real estate development firm, was elected chairman of the American University board of trustees yesterday, according to student leaders who met with the panel.

The board, which voted last week to dismiss Benjamin Ladner as president of the private university after an investigation questioned his personal and travel expenses, has fractured over the issue and has lost several members recently as trustees continue to discuss Ladner's departure.

MARYLAND

Pastor's Rebuke Prompts Pro-Gay Rally

More than 100 students rallied in support of gay rights at a Baltimore County high school yesterday after a local minister criticized the school's recognition of National Coming Out Day, one of the event's organizers said.

Reed Shusterman, 17, a senior at Pikesville High, said students waved signs and chanted along a sidewalk that runs by the school. The rally was held after an anti-gay demonstration Monday at the school led by pastor Duane Johnson of Greater Bethlehem Temple, news reports said. Johnson could not be reached yesterday.

National Coming Out Day was held last week, but Shusterman said the students handed out pink and rainbow-colored armbands yesterday to show their support.

"We wanted to show that Pikesville is a school that is open and tolerant and is accepting of differences," Shusterman said.

Falling Tree Kills Charles County Logger

A man thinning the woods on a Charles County farm died Wednesday when he was crushed by a falling tree, according to the Charles County Sheriff's Office.

Jacob D. Hertzler, 29, of Mechanicsville was working with TJ's Logging removing trees from a 40-acre portion of Philip Riffle's farm in Charlotte Hall. About 11 a.m., after making cuts in a couple of trees, Hertzler had begun trimming the branches of another tree, when one of the cut trees, a poplar, fell on him, said Kristen Adkins, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. Hertzler was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators from the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office are looking into whether the logging equipment was being operated properly and whether the workers were taking necessary precautions. Riffle said Hertzler had been working for the company for about a month. Employees of TJ's Logging could not be reached for comment.

Union Fights to See School Board Process

The union representing public school teachers in Charles County has filed a complaint with the state's Open Meetings Compliance Board to force the local school board to make public the process for filling a vacancy.

The Education Association of Charles County asked the state panel this week to investigate whether the school board's decision to conduct private interviews and shield the names of applicants violates Maryland's open meetings law.

School board members in Charles are elected to four-year terms. When vacancies occur, such as the one created this month by a resignation, state law requires the board to fill the opening.

The school system has not received the union's complaint but believes the system is on solid legal ground. An attorney for the schools has reviewed similar rulings by the state board and concluded that the appointment process is an "executive function" that is not subject to the Open Meetings Act.

At the heart of the union's complaint are concerns that the school board's choice will make the panel more conservative.

5th Arrest Made in Baltimore Tunnel Alert

A fifth man has been arrested during an investigation into a possible terrorism threat to a highway tunnel in Baltimore this week, according to court documents.

Maged Hussein, who owns an east Baltimore convenience store that was raided by federal agents Tuesday, was taken into custody on a handgun charge, the documents showed.

Four men were detained Tuesday on immigration charges and will be deported, according to Mark Bastan, acting special agent in charge at Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Baltimore.

Authorities closed the Harbor Tunnel on Interstate 895 for more than 90 minutes and searched vehicles at the Fort McHenry Tunnel on I-95 after receiving a warning from an informant in the Netherlands that terrorists planned to detonate explosives in one of the tubes. The threat is uncorroborated.

Child, Father Burned at Renaissance Fair

A 2-year-old girl suffered second-degree burns to her face and her father was burned on his head in an accident involving flame-throwing acrobats at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Anne Arundel County.

"We thought they knew what they were doing," said Christina Duvall of Bridgeville, Del., whose daughter, Autumn, and husband, David, are recovering from Sunday's injuries.

Two acrobats took out a carpet and began tumbling near the family, getting Autumn's attention, then asked David Duvall to become part of the act, said Duvall, one of the burn victims. They told him they wanted to set fire to his bald head.

One acrobat swabbed his head with a wet wand and ignited the liquid with a flaming wand. As the performer pulled back, some of the burning liquid dripped off the wand and onto the side of Autumn's face, burning the area around her left eye and singeing off her left eyebrow and eyelashes.

VIRGINIA

Arlington Official Joins State Transit Panel

Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Chris Zimmerman has been appointed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to serve on a new commission studying transportation in Virginia's urban areas.

The panel will recommend steps for better integrating planning and transit options. The 17 members include state elected officials, local government managers, academic experts, business people and residents. The commission is to report by Dec. 31.

Reston Elects Community Center Board

Reston voters have chosen a new board for the Reston Community Center. The new members are Mary Buff, Kevin B. Deasy, George C. Lawton and Peter von zur Muehlen. Board members set center policy, adopt an operating budget, attend monthly meetings, chair committees and represent the center at community functions.

"We just drive around the city, and nobody knows who we are. Some days, I feel like the Grim Reaper."

-- Detective Chris MacWilliams of the

D.C. police department's natural-death squad. -- A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Ann E. Marimow, Ylan Q. Mui, Joshua Partlow and Eric M. Weiss and the Associated Press.