Gasoline Truck Explodes on I-95

Lanes Closed for Hours; No Injuries Reported

A tanker carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline caught fire on southbound Interstate 95 in Prince George's County early Wednesday, shutting down all lanes in both directions for about an hour, with the southbound lanes closed for about three hours. The driver of the truck, Boyer Chew of Odenton, escaped injury. A spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department said the cause of the fire probably was the truck's brakes locking up, overheating and igniting a tire.

In Howard, Smoking Ban 'Too Extreme'

Council Would Not Support Full Restriction

A majority of Howard County Council members said they would oppose a complete ban on smoking in the county's restaurants and bars, eliminating for now the possibility of a smoke-free zone that would cover the District and its most populous Maryland suburbs. The move puts Howard on a different course from some area counties, which have recently made dining and drinking a smoke-free experience.

Prince George's Sets Homicide Record

Riverdale Park Killing Is 155th This Year

The fatal shooting of a man in the Riverdale Park area Monday raised the number of homicides in Prince George's County to a record 155. The previous record of 154 homicides was set in 1991.

Across the Region

Rock Star of Botanic Garden; Cell Phone Bandits

* Thousands lined up at the U.S. Botanic Garden to get a whiff of a giant plant that emits a distinctive -- and horrible -- odor.

It took 14 years, but the titan arum, or corpse flower, finally bloomed, letting off a putrid smell that enthusiasts had been eagerly awaiting. It was only the third time that a plant of its kind has blossomed in Washington, and the thrill didn't last long. The plant blooms for only 24 to 48 hours.

* The prosecution of the two suspects in the cell phone bandit bank robberies will be consolidated in federal court in Alexandria.

The decision came after Loudoun County prosecutors agreed to dismiss their case against the woman accused of robbing four banks.

Candice R. Martinez, 19, was arrested this month on warrants from Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Fairfax prosecutors, at the request of federal prosecutors, had dismissed their case against Martinez. She was identified after a surveillance video of a Nov. 4 holdup at a Wachovia bank branch in Ashburn was broadcast nationwide.

Martinez's boyfriend, Dave C. Williams, 19, of Fairfax is also charged in the crimes.

* The National Zoo's giant panda cub will have plenty of admirers when he makes his public debut next month. It took about two hours for the zoo to run out of the 13,000 free, timed-entry tickets it offered online to see the cub. The passes cover dates from Dec. 8 to Jan. 2. Shut out? The zoo says not to worry.

"We want people to know this is not the end," said Matt Olear, a spokesman for Friends of the National Zoo, which handled the distribution. "There will be plenty of opportunities later to see him."

* An Alexandria woman died Thanksgiving night when she fell down an elevator shaft in a condominium at Gallery Place in the District, police said.

According to police, Dawn M. Phillips, 34, had returned from dinner with friends shortly after 8 p.m. and was riding in an elevator in a condominium complex in the 700 block of Seventh Street NW, next to Metro's Gallery Place Station. Police said that the husband of a friend was escorting Phillips to the lobby when the elevator got stuck just above the sixth floor. The man opened the doors and leapt onto the sixth-floor landing. Phillips was attempting to do the same when she slipped.

* Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced that the state will commit a record amount of money to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

Warner said details of the new effort will be announced as part of his budget Dec. 16, but he said the amount will exceed the $150 million designated for water quality during the budget year that ended in July. Warner said the money will be used to help jump-start upgrades to publicly owned water treatment plants.

Smelling Is Believing Jeremiah Walker, 4, turns his nose up at the corpse flower.