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February ’98: An Almanac of the Significant, the Insignificant, the Words, Numbers and Images That Shaped the Year

Ronald L. Brothers, 41, steals a front-end loader and tries to drive it to a detoxification meeting in Centreville. He is drunk, he is caught, and he is charged with theft and driving while intoxicated.

A task force of federal and D.C. law enforcement authorities formed specifically to solve 107 murders has closed only seven cases in four months.

One of every six of the 340,088 persons registered to vote in the District can’t be reached at the listed address.

“There may be dead people on the list, but there is no evidence the dead are voting in the District of Columbia.”

- Alice Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections

Fairfax County’s 120 sharpshooters kill 60 deer, far short of what was hoped to thin the herd of an estimated 25,000 animals. The county spent as much as $60,000 for the effort.

Ruthann Aron’s attorney, Barry Helfand, concedes in his opening arguments to a Montgomery County jury that his client did try to hire a hit man to kill her husband and a rival lawyer. She was, Mr. Helfand says, a woman struggling in a man’s world.

A vandal destroys the white face of Jesus Christ in a stained glass window at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Northwest, explaining in a note, “Jesus Christ is an African.”

Michael William Kane, 20, of Alexandria, a University of Virginia student, drives off in a tow truck with a Mercedes-Benz attached. Two employees of the Charlottesville towing company are not in the truck at the time. The wrecker crashes just down the street. Mr. Kane is charged with auto theft.

Congress formally changes the name of Washington National Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after a ferocious, partisan debate.

Gov. James S. Gilmore III ousts Michelle Easton, an outspoken Fairfax County conservative, from the state Board of Education.

Sue Wrenn resigns as Virginia Democratic Party chairman after Republicans swept the state’s top three offices and gained equal footing in the General Assembly. Delegate Kenneth Plum, Fairfax Democrat, succeeds her.

A gunman kills local prizefighter Reuben “Rat Man” Bell in an ambush shooting in the Washington Hospital Center lobby. Five others are injured in the attack on Mr. Bell, who was suffering from colon cancer. Three weeks later, police arrest Tomar Cooper Locker, 23, at the Fort Jackson military installation in South Carolina.

“You could see holes on both sides [of his head].”

- Dr. Dennis Wang of Rockville, the doctor who treated Mr. Bell’s fatal injuries

Gen. Charles E. Williams, whose work overseeing roof repairs for the D.C. school system is under investigation by local and federal agencies, resigns, saying he’s tired of the criticism.

Christine T. Schwalm reads aloud to the Montgomery County school board graphic sexual prose from novels written by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The books remain on public school reading lists.

Montgomery County Police Chief Carol A. Mehrling runs a red light in her unmarked cruiser and smacks another car in Gaithersburg. She is not ticketed. She admits to the accident after police announce a crackdown on motorists who run red lights.

“I was just like, `Wow.’ Nothing normal for me. I have to be hit by the police chief.”

- Catherine H. Cahnmann, 51, of Gaithersburg, after her Jeep was struck by Chief Mehrling

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening rejects Baltimore Democrats’ nominee to the post vacated by expelled state Sen. Larry Young – Mr. Glendening says he can only approve “a qualified candidate.”

The D.C. financial control board hires Lockheed Martin IMS and World Wide Parking Inc. for $25 million to replace broken parking meters in the District.

Arlington County discontinues free parking for the disabled, effective June 1.

“Arlington County is trying to balance its budget off the backs of the disabled.”

- John A. Antonelli, 35, a blind member of the inspector general’s staff at the U.S. Department of Justice

Longwood College in Farmville, Va., will require incoming freshmen to have a computer. It is the second public college, behind Virginia Tech, in Virginia to require the technology.

Wayne Anderson, 28, breaks into the home of a Spotsylvania County sheriff’s deputy. The deputy goes home for lunch and discovers Anderson, his pockets stuffed full of jewelry. A Montgomery County judge sentences Alba Ingrid Scarpelli to 27 years in prison, suspending all but 18 months, for abusing her boyfriend’s 5-year-old son. Alan Lee Holmes, the boy’s father, is sentenced to eight years in prison for abuse, neglect and torture.

The D.C. financial control board kills the $175 million Children’s Island project, arguing that the proposed educational theme park on two islands in the Anacostia River is based on shaky assumptions. The D.C. Council had approved the concept.

Maryland legislators abolish, then restore, the centuries-old tradition of praying before House of Delegates meetings in Annapolis – all on the same day. Some delegates object to the prayers, which at times become sermons or stray from their nondenominational intent.

A D.C. jury convicts Marthell Dean of murdering city police Officer Brian Gibson, 27, in 1997.

Chancellor Media Corp. of Texas buys WWDC-FM and WWDC-AM, the last two locally owned radio stations in Washington, for $72 million.

D.C. police Officer Tyrone Hardy delivers Charlestine Kamara’s baby in the back seat of a car on H Street NE.

The Starbucks coffee shop at 1810 Wisconsin Ave. NW, where three employees were shot and killed in July 1997, reopens. The store’s proceeds will be donated to victims’ rights organizations.

A man is killed at the Jenifer apartments on Tuckerman Street NW when he attempts to climb from a stalled elevator and the cab moves while he’s trying to crawl out.

D.C. Mayor Marion Barry goes to Israel for a five-day conference. Taxpayers are footing some of the bill, but most – $2,000 – is paid by malpractice lawyer Jack H. Olender.

The District shuts its Half Street SW vehicle inspection station for a year for renovations. Only one station remains, on West Virginia Avenue NE. It handles the increased business without a glitch.

Maryland Delegate Gerald J. Curran, Baltimore Democrat, resigns, declaring himself not guilty of ethics violations. He ends a 31-year political career.

While the Virginia General Assembly is voting to eliminate the state’s car tax, Prince William County is auctioning four cars seized because the owners failed to pay the tax. Chester Holland successfully bids $450 for a 1988 Mercury Cougar.


Random numbers from the month:

  • Pounds of venison distributed to Maryland food banks by hunters during the 1997-98 hunting season: 4,282.
  • Average price of a pack of cigarettes in Maryland: $1.96.
  • Price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline Feb. 2 in Roanoke, in cents: 95
  • Price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline Feb. 2 in Manassas, in dollars: $1.07
  • Price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline Feb. 2 in the District, in dollars: $1.13
  • Estimated new cancer cases for Maryland in 1998: 22,900
  • Estimated new cancer cases for D.C. in 1998: 3,100
  • Estimated new cancer cases for Virginia in 1998: 28,900
  • Businesses to which Howard County police sent minors to try to buy cigarettes: 37
  • Businesses that sold cigarettes to minors: 17
  • Inches of rain that fell at Dulles International Airport Feb. 5: 2.16
  • Normal for the entire month of February: 2.71
  • Diving ducks counted in Maryland waterfowl survey: 191,100
  • Canada Geese counted: 275,100
Client Reviews
"I have watched Mr. Helfand in trial and in negotiations. He is remarkable. Mr. Helfand is extremely knowledgeable in the law, and even more knowledgeable in the ways to deal with people." Afshin Pishevar, Criminal Defense Attorney in Rockville, MD
"I strongly endorse this lawyer. I have known Mr. Helfand for many years. We have worked together on cases and represented conflicting parties. I have watched Mr. Helfand in trial and in negotiations. He is remarkable." David Felsen, Criminal Defense Attorney in Rockville, MD
"It’s one of the biggest cases that’s been tried in Montgomery County in a long time,” said Steve VanGrack, a Rockville lawyer considering a Democratic bid for state’s attorney." Washington Post