THE REGION

Pentagon Reports False Alarm at Mail Site

Equipment used to screen mail for the Defense Department detected possible trace amounts of a deadly toxin last weekend, but later tests showed it was a false alarm, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said tests that came back Saturday on mail that had arrived a day earlier at the mail facility next to the Pentagon indicated "a testing anomaly of possible trace amounts of botulinum toxin." Flood said follow-up tests were negative. "It was a false alarm. Nobody was harmed."

VIRGINIA

19-Year-Old Man Is Slain in Reston

A 19-year-old Reston man was shot to death yesterday afternoon near a wooded path in Reston, and police had made no arrests in Fairfax County's 18th homicide of the year.

The shooting occurred about 1:49 p.m. behind the Winterthur Apartments in the Hunters Woods section. Officer Bud Walker, a Fairfax County police spokesman, said officers found the victim on a hill behind the 11900 block of Winterthur Lane. The victim's name was not released pending notification of his family.

The circumstances of the shooting were not disclosed, but Walker said police do not believe it was related to two recent stabbings on paths near the Hunters Woods Shopping Center.

MARYLAND

Court Turns Down Stay of Execution

Maryland's highest court yesterday rejected a request for a stay of execution from Wesley E. Baker, who is scheduled to die the week of Dec. 5 for a 1991 murder.

Baker's attorneys had argued that he should get a new trial because of a state study showing racial and geographic disparities in the way capital punishment is imposed in Maryland.

In a brief order, the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected Baker's request for a stay of execution. The order did not give reasons for the ruling or say how the seven members voted.

Baker was sentenced to die by lethal injection for killing Jane Tyson, 49, in a Baltimore County shopping center parking lot as her grandchildren watched.

Gary Christopher, a federal public defender representing Baker, said he will file an appeal next week with the U.S. Supreme Court. Christopher also has filed a new appeal with the state Court of Appeals citing evidence of abuse he suffered as a child.

U-Md. Considers Another Fee Increase

Rising energy costs in the wake of the year's hurricanes have led the University of Maryland to consider a $15 a year increase in student fees.

A committee of College Park students and administrators has approved a $70-a-year increase. Now it wants to boost that increase to $85 starting next fall.

Currently, students pay $1,255 in annual fees, said Cassandra Robinson, a university spokeswoman. The fees, which are in addition to tuition, cover recreational activities.

The increase must be approved by the university president and administrators and by the university system's Board of Regents.

Auxiliary Police Officer Hit by Car

An auxiliary police officer was struck by a car and seriously injured in Howard County last night while directing traffic after a collision, county police said.

They said Petrus Lucas, 21, of Glenwood, was struck on Route 40 about 6:20 p.m. and taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

THE DISTRICT

City Sets Up 'Hypothermia Hotline'

The D.C. Department of Human Services has again set up a "hypothermia hotline" for taking reports of homeless people who are outdoors in low temperatures this winter.

The number is 800-535-7252.

Officials said vans will be dispatched to pick up the homeless and take them to shelters. Those who won't go will get blankets and warm drinks.

Temperatures are forecast to dip below freezing during the next several days.

Residence for Disabled Damaged in Fire

A early-morning fire caused by arson yesterday damaged part of a Northeast Washington building that serves as a residence for people with mental disabilities, D.C. fire investigators said.

Authorities said the damage, estimated at $10,000, was confined to one apartment in the three-story building in the 1800 block of Hamlin Street NE. They said eight people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

Bond Rater Gives the District an A+

The District was awarded its highest bond assessment ever yesterday by Standard & Poor's, which upgraded the city to an A+ rating.

On Monday, Moody's Investor Services also raised the city's rating to a "positive" outlook. And earlier this year, Fitch Ratings maintained the city's "A positive" rating.

The District is scheduled to issue $335 million in general obligation bonds on Tuesday. Higher ratings permit cheaper borrowing.

Standard & Poor's said its upgrade was based on "a continuation of conservative financial management and operations, coupled with significant tax base growth and investment."

Sales Tax Holiday Begins Tomorrow

Holiday shoppers in the District will be able to save during a sales-tax-free period that begins tomorrow and will last through Dec. 4.

For 10 days, clothing, footwear and accessories costing $100 or less will be exempt from the city's 5.75 percent sales tax.

Fire Forces Evacuation of Ballou High

Students were evacuated from Ballou Senior High School in Southeast shortly before dismissal yesterday after a fire in a classroom sent heavy smoke into the halls, D.C. school officials said.

The smoke came from a chair that had been set on fire in an empty room, said Alexis Moore, spokeswoman for the school system. No one was injured, and damage was confined to the one room, Moore said, adding that the school would reopen Monday.

"I love turkey. I eat turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey cereal. I'm just kidding about the cereal."

-- Edward Minor, a worker at Market Poultry at D.C.'s Eastern Market. -- B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Eric Weiss, Clarence Williams, V. Dion Haynes, Petula Dvorak, Martin Weil and Karlyn Barker and the Associated Press.