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Westlake Legal Group > Maryland News

Nightly road repairs start on George Washington, Clara Barton parkways

Much-needed road repairs are scheduled to begin Tuesday night on two major commuter routes: the northern end of the George Washington Parkway and the Clara Barton Parkway.

The National Park Service said drivers should expect single-lane closures each evening, from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., to accommodate the roadwork.

In Virginia, the work on the George Washington Parkway will be done between Chain Bridge Road — also known as Va. 123 — and the Capital Beltway. In Maryland, work on the Clara Barton Parkway will happen between the Chain Bridge and MacArthur Boulevard.

“We’re working this fall so the parkways are ready for winter driving,” said Superintendent Charles Cuvelier in a news release. “Even though this work won’t address the entirety of either road, it’s part of the National Park Service’s long-term plan to maintain and eventually reconstruct both the George Washington Memorial and Clara Barton parkways.”

In 2016, the park service developed plans to bring the roadways — which were both originally called George Washington Parkway until the Barton parkway’s renaming in 1989 — up to modern design standards.

“The NPS will continue to compete for federal grants that would fund the North Section Parkway Rehabilitation Project,” which would reconstruct the road, improve overlooks, rehabilitate the parkway’s stone walls and improve road drainage, said Cuvelier.

The park service and Federal Highway Administration continue to work to repair the sinkhole near Dead Run. A northbound lane of the parkway was closed from March through September after the sinkhole caused the road to give way.


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4 dead in tragic Saturday on Maryland, Virginia roads

An unusually deadly weekend on the D.C. region’s roads claimed four lives across suburban Maryland and Virginia in four separate fatal incidents, two of which involved a vehicle leaving the roadways and striking trees.

In addition to two deaths from Saturday crashes along Route 4 in Prince George’s County, and on Brent Town Road in Fauquier County, two more people were killed in other crashes, adding to a tragic 15-hour time span starting early Saturday morning.

It was around 8:30 a.m. Saturday when Prince George’s County saw its second deadly crash of the day, this time on what many consider to be the deadliest road in the region.

Prince George’s County police said two people were standing outside a disabled truck along Route 210/Indian Head Highway, near Wilson Bridge Drive, when they were struck by another vehicle.

One of the two victims who were hit was killed, and the other was hospitalized in critical condition with injuries considered life-threatening.

That evening, police in Fairfax County said a car with four passengers struck a tree on Telegraph Road near Beulah Road, in the vicinity of Kingstowne, around 6 p.m.

‘The crash left one person dead while the other three had what police called minor injuries.

Elsewhere, a serious collision in Anne Arundel County injured four but did not result in immediate loss of life.

On Friday night, four teenagers were traveling on Sands Road through Lothian when their vehicle left the roadway and collided with a pole.

Anne Arundel County police said two people were transported to be treated for injuries considered life threatening, the Capital Gazette reported.

Two others were hospitalized with injuries considered serious, but not life threatening.


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Montgomery County superintendent expects phone policy changes

On the first day of the 2019-2020 school year, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith expects the system’s policy regarding students’ use of phones will likely change.

Currently, the county’s policy dictates phones be kept off and out of sight during school hours, unless the teacher instructs the student to use it for an educational purpose.

“We are looking at all the research coming out, and of course the world of cellphones has been an ever-evolving world for public education in the last 10 years,” said Smith. “We will probably make some decisions this year around how we go forward.”

Standing outside Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, as cheerleaders welcomed students to their first day of school in Maryland’s largest school system, Smith said the county will continue to listen to parents, as was done when the county made it possible for elementary school students to bring phones to school with parental approval.

“Many parents feel like it’s a security issue for a child to have the phone,” said Smith. “But, also, how do we make sure that they’re not overused and don’t become a distraction — not only in school, but in life, everyday, all the time.”

Nearby Fairfax County Public Schools has instituted a new middle school policy that requires phones and other personal electronics be locked in the student’s locker during the school day.

Lynne Harris, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, told WTOP there “is definitely growing support” for further restricting or banning students from having phones with them during school hours.

“What we have to do is find the appropriate, effective middle ground, where there is benefit to students and their learning, but not a distraction to the school and the classroom,” Smith said.

With the explosion of social media, games, messaging, and photography apps, Smith said: “There are a lot of people who’ve expressed that they don’t think anyone should have a cellphone,” during school hours.

“It is a challenge for teachers, principals, and school staff, in general, to keep students engaged when the students have the whole world in their hand.”


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Fairfax, Montgomery counties differ in controlling phone use in middle schools

Middle schools in Fairfax County began the year with a new policy that essentially bans the use of personal electronic devices during the school day.

While Montgomery County Public Schools policy dictates phones be kept off and out of sight during school hours, the president of the county’s council of parent-teacher associations says there “is definitely growing support” for restricting or banning students from having phones with them in school.

Fairfax County’s new middle school policy reads: “All electronic devices to include, but not limited to, phones, smartwatches, airpods, tablets, etc., must be powered off and kept away for the duration of the school day in student-assigned lockers.”

The policy allows for the use of the devices on school grounds before the morning bell and after the dismissal bell. It also specifies: “The use of social media, taking/posting pictures, playing games and other technology features are not allowed during the school day.”

In Montgomery County, Lynne Harris, president of Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, says the group’s Safe Technology Committee has been thoroughly researching phone use by young people, since the county school system made it possible for elementary school students to bring cellphones to school, with parental approval.

Harris tells WTOP she believes county’s policy is crystal clear: “Off and away, inside the classroom, unless the teacher instructs the student to take it out and use if for an educational purpose.”

“However, many teachers don’t enforce that policy, many students very much resist the policy, and are opening violating it,” Harris said.

Citing a cellphone ban in San Mateo, California, as well as “some schools in Northern Virginia,” Harris said: “Schools are standing up and saying, ‘you know what, we’re just banning them.’”

Harris said her group hasn’t yet officially pushed for a change in phone policy in Montgomery County schools during the school day, or what grades it might include. “I would say there is definitely growing support for restricting, or even banning phones in the classrooms.”

In informal discussions with school officials, Harris said the school system seems to be focusing on educating parents about discussing appropriate phone usage with their children. However, “I know of parents texting their students during class periods, which is totally inappropriate.”

Anecdotally, Harris said the results in San Mateo have been dramatic. “Students aren’t staring at their phones all day, but actually walking in the halls and talking to other people, and engaging in conversations. I think it’s something MCPS needs to look at.”

A spokesperson for MCPS said the school system isn’t planning to tighten cellphone rules when schools open Tuesday, “but we always welcome the insight and feedback from members of our community.”

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report. 


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Area rescue teams off to Florida to lend Hurricane Dorian aid

Rescue teams from Maryland and Virginia fire and rescue departments have been activated to provide support and resources to areas affected by Hurricane Dorian.

Fairfax County-based Virginia Task Force One and Montgomery County-based Maryland Task Force One were activated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday.

Sixteen out of 28 FEMA teams across the country are heading to Florida, said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Pete Piringer.

Maryland Task Force One is sending about 85 people, including doctors and structural engineers, along with six dogs and 20 vehicles.

Those vehicles include tractor trailers, large box trucks, pickups, all-terrain vehicles, boats, motor coaches and passenger vans, said Scott Goldstein, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service chief.

They will be deployed for 10 to 14 days, and they are trained in heavy concrete rescue, as well as lightweight collapse rescue.

Maryland Task Force One is made up of members from fire departments in Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties, as well as specialized civilian members.

“The opportunity to go out and help another community is what makes this the driving passion of all our first responders,” Goldstein said.


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FBI offers reward for ‘Furry Mask Bandit’

A man with a funny nickname is accused of serious crimes in Maryland and Virginia, and the FBI is offering thousands of dollars in reward money, hoping for tips that will lead to his arrest.

The FBI says the man, known as the “Furry Mask Bandit,” is responsible for at least four bank robberies since October.

“We do feel that he’s a danger to the community,” said Special Agent Robert Bornstein. “We need public assistance in capturing this guy.”

According to the FBI, the man wears hoodie sweatshirts, furry masks or wigs, and sunglasses to cover his face. He has been described as slim and 5 feet, 9 inches to 5 feet, 10 inches tall.

A $5,000 reward is offered for information that leads to the suspect.

“As time goes on, serial bank robbers may get more aggressive, and we just don’t want anyone to be harmed by this individual,” Bornstein said.

The Furry Mask Bandit has robbed SunTrust banks inside Safeway grocery stores in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and in Falls Church and Herndon, Virginia.

Investigators said the man approaches the counter and passes a note demanding money, asking for $100 bills.

“The demand letters are consistent in message and in handwriting style,” said Bornstein.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the FBI Washington Field Office at (202) 278-2000 or submit a tip at https://tips.fbi.gov.


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After flooding, Fairfax Co. declares local emergency; other jurisdictions still adding up damage

Fairfax County, Virginia, became the latest jurisdiction in the area to declare a local emergency following the flash flooding last week that damaged homes, businesses and roads.

The county Board of Supervisors voted for the declaration this week, which is required in Virginia for local governments that plan to seek disaster relief funding for residents and business owners.

The declaration allows jurisdictions to request additional resources from the state and federal governments and could potentially lead to FEMA assistance.

“We’re going to be in that process today, tomorrow and probably in the next couple months, ensuring that these folks are taken care of,” said Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill.

Arlington County and the City of Falls Church already declared their own local emergencies. Early next week, the Alexandria City Council plans to discuss doing the same thing.

“That was a 100-year storm that we experienced,” Hill said.

Local governments across the area are still adding up the damage.

In Maryland, where the jurisdictions are not required to go through the process of declaring a local emergency, officials have been reviewing reports from residents and deciding whether they will seek assistance.

“Getting a federal disaster declaration is very difficult,” said Earl Stoddard, director of Montgomery County’s Emergency Management Agency. “We’re not sure we’re going to meet those thresholds, but we want to give our residents the best opportunity to make the case to the state that such a declaration is necessary.”

Reagan National Airport reported 3.3 inches of rain in an hour, including a half-inch of rain in 11 minutes, during the morning of Monday, July 8.

Between 3 and 6 inches of rain had fallen in Montgomery County by 11 a.m.

Water levels at Cameron Run, in Alexandria, a flood-prone area along the Capital Beltway, rose more than 7 feet over 30 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.


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DC-area counties look into federal funding for flash flood recovery

It’s possible parts of the D.C. area could qualify for federal assistance following the flash flooding Monday, and some residents are being encouraged to let their respective counties know about any damage they’ve experienced.

Montgomery County, Maryland, has opened a damage assessment portal where residents and businesses can submit a damage reporting form through July 15.

The county said the data collected will help determine if the county meets the FEMA eligibility threshold to apply for federal funding.

“Getting a federal disaster declaration is very difficult,” said Earl Stoddard, director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. “We’re not sure we’re going to meet those thresholds, but we want to give our residents the best opportunity to make the case to the state that such a declaration is necessary.”

Stoddard said that no one should delay filing an insurance claim in the hopes of a federal payout. “Even if we were to qualify for FEMA reimbursement, this is a monthslong process,” he said.

Stoddard added that in Montgomery County, 15 to 20 homes had sustained “fairly significant” water damage in their basement. In a few, “the standing water in the homes was measurable in feet as opposed to inches.”

Fairfax County, Virginia, also has a disaster damage database, where residents can report damage to see if the county might get any federal assistance. Those reports are due by July 24.


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Legalizing marijuana, banning ‘ghost guns’ on to-do list for Md. lawmakers

WASHINGTON — In just one week, Maryland lawmakers will be back at work in Annapolis to begin a 90-day session.

Leaders say they hope to tackle a range of topics in this year’s session, including banning so-called “ghost guns,” criminal justice reform, legalizing marijuana and extending harassment laws to more employees.

But the first order of business when the session begins Jan. 9 will be swearing in the 141 delegates and 47 senators. There are 43 new House members and 17 new state senators this year.

Delegate Kathleen Dumais, who was first elected in 2002 and has been appointed House Majority leader, said she looks forward to mentoring newcomers.

“It’s an awesome undertaking to become a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, and whatever I can do to help our new members, I’m happy to do,” she said.

Seventy-one women won seats in the Maryland General Assembly, and many are newcomers to the State House.

Dumais, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, said getting the perspectives of the growing number of women in Annapolis is a welcome and important development.

“I’ve certainly seen it in the type of legislation that I’ve worked on over the 16 years I’ve been a member of the house — on family law, domestic violence and sexual assault legislation,” Dumais said.

While the Kirwan Commission continues to work on overhauling education policy and coming up with a formula to fund it, Dumais said lawmakers will continue to explore issues brought up in the commission’s report, including the expansion of early childhood education.

Dumais said lawmakers will look at banning so-called “ghost guns” as well as 3D-generated firearms. Proponents of the bans say that 3D-generated guns present a problem, because they can’t be detected using the type of scanners found at courthouses and airports.

It’s illegal to remove serial numbers from firearms, but federal law permits a person to buy the parts needed to assemble a firearm without any identifying marks, such as a serial number.

Delegate David Moon said he’ll be looking at legislation that would keep nonviolent offenders from being sentenced to serve jail time. He said he’s especially interested in looking at how and why people with mental illness often end up in the criminal justice system, instead of getting needed care.

“That is not a cheap problem to address, but I think increasingly it’s one that ordinary folks on both sides of the aisle realize is a big problem,” Moon said.

Moon said he will also work on legislation to make cannabis legal in the state. Possession of marijuana — less than 10 grams — has been decriminalized, but it is not legal unless it is medical marijuana.

Moon said he sees a potential for revenues from the cannabis industry to fund education, mental health and substance abuse services.

Maryland’s Coalition Against Sexual Assault had a number of legislative victories in 2018.

Executive Director and Counsel for the organization Lisae Jordan, said the “Me Too” movement has kept a spotlight on workers that don’t get protections under the current Maryland laws against harassment and discrimination.

Companies with fewer than 15 employees are not subject to a number labor laws that deal with harassment, Jordan said.

“We need to have protections for maids, we need to have protections for people who are helping with our gardens, who are taking out our trash, who are working as domestics,” she said. “We want to make sure that sexual harassment laws protect everyone.”

Jordan also wants to change the law that said if an employee faces sexual harassment, they have 300 days in which to report it.

“We need to change those things,” she said, noting that in cases of sexual harassment, victims may delay reporting for a number of reasons, including fear of losing work. “We need to give women and men a longer time to report,” she said.

Lawmakers will be in Annapolis until the final day of the session, “Sine Die,” on April 8.


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Man shot in 2007 dies, bringing Baltimore’s 2018 homicide count to 309

BALTIMORE (AP) — Police say a man has died 11 years after he was shot, bringing Baltimore’s homicide total to 309 for 2018.

Baltimore police announced the death of Clinton Anderson in a statement Tuesday. Police say Anderson was shot in 2007 when he was 37 years old and died Nov. 10 at the Overlea Health and Rehabilitation Center at the age of 49.

Police say the medical examiner determined last month that Anderson died as a result of the 2007 shooting. Police say his death is reflected in 2018’s homicide count. That brings the year’s total to 309, a nearly 10 percent drop from 342 in 2017.

Police say two men were convicted in the shooting. One was sentenced to life in prison and the other got 20 years.


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