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Prosecutors ask court to limit release of Freddie Gray evidence - or post it all online

Jun 16, 2015 09:17 PM EDT

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby wants a judge to block defense attorneys from selectively releasing evidence in the Freddie Gray case — or facilitate an agreement between the two sides to post all of the evidence online in one fell swoop.

In an unusual Circuit Court filing this week, Mosby's office requested a protective order barring defense attorneys for the six Baltimore police officers charged in Gray's arrest and death from releasing any of the evidence due to them June 26 through court discovery, including Gray's autopsy.

Absent that order, however, prosecutors said in the filing they would rather accept a deal to post all of the evidence online than "remain silent" — as is required of them by law — while defense attorneys leak evidence that suits their needs, which Mosby's office said they are inclined to do.

"Indeed, if the Defendants were to consent and the court would so order, the State would have no objection to posting the entire autopsy report on the internet, along with all of the discovery in the case," the prosecutors wrote. "Defendants, however, want to have it both ways. They want the freedom to publicize selected aspects of the discovery, while requiring the State to follow the law that prevents comments in order to ensure a fair trial."

It was unclear whether the suggestion in the court filing was a rhetorical device or if the defense attorneys would consider the offer. Both the state's attorney's office and defense attorneys for the accused officers declined to comment on the motion Tuesday.

But outside legal observers said it was bizarre.

Legal ethics are a matter of law, and it's unclear if the standard requiring prosecutors to protect a defendant's right to a fair trial could be ignored if the defendant gave consent to post evidence online, said Kurt Nachtman, a defense attorney and former Baltimore prosecutor.

What's more, he said, the different standards for defense attorneys and prosecutors on releasing information — which the state laments in its motion — are in place for a reason.

"The same rules don't apply to both teams, and there's a reason for that. The state has a higher ethical obligation," he said. "The state has more power over swaying the general public than defense attorneys do. When the general public hears a defense attorney talk, they just think, 'Oh he's just advocating for his client.' The state has the power and the authority to protect the fight for justice."

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, agreed.

"There are limits on the prosecution, and there are limits because it's funded by a government that theoretically has unlimited resources," Eberly said. "And there are very few [limits] placed on the defense because we operate under the assumption of innocence."

The motion was the latest attempt by Mosby's office to restrict information in the case, but the first to suggest that the state would hold a different stance in the unlikely scenario it could offload evidence in the case wholesale.

Gray, 25, sustained a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody in April. His death a week later galvanized portions of the community to stage mass protests against police brutality. Unrest followed, culminating in looting and rioting. State and city officials called in the National Guard and implemented a citywide curfew.

Mosby filed a range of charges against the six officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport in the back of a police van.

Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., the van driver, is charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder, and Sgt. Alicia D. White, Lt. Brian W. Rice and Officer William G. Porter are charged with manslaughter.

Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller face lesser charges, including second-degree assault.

Since the officers' indictments last month, Mosby's office and defense attorneys have sparred in court filings over access to information and the massive amount of publicity surrounding the case. Defense attorneys have argued for Mosby to be recused from the case, citing alleged conflicts of interest that she has denied. They have asked for the case to be removed from Baltimore, alleging that Mosby's widely covered news conference to announce the charges has already swayed the jury pool.

Mosby's office argued a protective order is necessary because defense attorneys "have demonstrated a likelihood of publicizing discovery materials in a manner that may jeopardize the ability to conduct a fair and impartial trial."

"The Court must not allow the discovery in this case to further fuel a defense public-relations firestorm," the prosecutors wrote. "The evidence must be made public, but its release to the public must be made in a court of law, not in defense efforts to court public favor."

Evidence is not regularly filed in court records that are accessible to the public and members of the press, but without a protective order there is nothing that prevents defense attorneys from releasing information, the state said.

Mosby's office has complained that defense attorneys have inappropriately discussed the case in public. In their filing for the protective order, the prosecutors argued that defense attorneys have been "attempting to undermine public faith in the prosecutor and the charges" through the motions they have filed in court.

Prosecutors previously requested a gag order, which would have prevented those involved in the case from speaking about it publicly but not blocked review of documents filed. That request was rejected by a judge on procedural grounds. The Baltimore Sun joined other media organizations in opposing the gag order in court.

In the new motion, the prosecutors repeatedly referred to coverage in The Baltimore Sun, including stories quoting defense motions, as evidence of the growing profile the case has in the public sphere.

The state said a Google search for the name "Freddie Gray" yielded "60,500,000 results" at the time of the motion's writing, and noted that The Sun and CNN "both maintain an entire portion of their websites dedicated to coverage of this case."

Nathan Siegel, the attorney who represented The Sun and its 18 media partners in fighting the gag order, declined to comment.

Laura Handman, a media attorney who has represented The Baltimore Sun's parent company, Tribune, in the past but not on this case, said asking for a protective order to control public knowledge in a case that has already captured such international attention seemed illogical.

"It's kind of like closing the barn doors after the horses are already gone," she said. "There are many high-profile cases which get tried all the time where there has been endless discussion of the evidence before trial and during trial, and jurors are instructed not to pay attention to the press."

Charles Tobin, another media attorney who has represented The Baltimore Sun in the past, said it "seems to be a contradiction in logic to say that the best way to ensure public confidence is secrecy."

"That's why the standard is very high to seal records and gag participants, especially in a high-profile case where public oversight is very important," Tobin said.

In the motion, the prosecutors said the state "does not seek to limit in any way the press's right to attend the trial or any pretrial hearings" and "seeks only to have justice carried out in the courtroom, not the newsroom."

To support its claim that defense attorneys should be more tight-lipped in public, Mosby's office also cited a 2003 case in which then-Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler was sanctioned for making public comments about multiple pending cases he was trying.

But in doing so, the office ignored criticisms that Mosby herself was out of line when she held a news conference on the steps of Baltimore's War Memorial to announce the charges in the Gray case, Eberly said — something he found amusing.

"You pull a Gansler, and then you cite the Gansler case to justify not letting the defense play the same game?" Eberly said. "That's chutzpah."

krector@baltsun.com

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Teachers, councilmen criticize disposal of textbooks at closing school

Jun 16, 2015 10:36 PM EDT

When Heritage High School closed its doors for good this week, students and staff were not the only ones displaced. They were joined by John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare.

Despite pleas from teachers, community leaders and city councilmen, the Northeast Baltimore high school disposed of hundreds of books, which ranged from math and science textbooks more than a decade old to timeless classics. Some, teachers said, still had crisp pages and the new-book smell.

City school officials said schools recycle books annually if they are outdated or deemed in poor condition. For years, the district has worked with a vendor that has hauled off books or paid the district a resale value for them.

But the practice of purging the books, recently brought to light at Heritage, has outraged many who say they could be put to better use if they were recycled into the community.

Heritage, located on the Lake Clifton campus, is one of five schools the school board voted to close this month. In the weeks leading to the closure, teachers said they received little direction on how to dispose of equipment, beyond throwing away some glassware from science labs.

"We started to think, what is going to happen with these books?" said Neil Rubin, who taught English at Heritage this year.

Rubin said it soon became clear when staff members received word that only books published before 2000 would be thrown away. The directive was from the central office, officials there confirmed.

Rubin said he began grabbing copies of Elie Wiesel's "Night" and Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to save from the recycling bin.

But Rubin, former senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, said he watched in horror Monday as other classics and textbooks met a different fate.

"As a newcomer to the system, one of the things that I learned is that these kids are looking to be challenged, and they need role models and leadership to do it," he said. "Role models don't throw out books. And these are exactly the types of books that they need to be reading, because they make them dream and think."

The school's principal, Stephanie Farmer, did not respond to a request for comment. Jimmy Gittings, president of the administrators union, said Farmer was following orders.

"It's very important that the public understands that this principal is under a lot of pressure trying to close out a school, and trying to follow the directives of 10 different people," Gittings said.

"I have tried to work diligently with management, but I will not stand for administrators being humiliated and chastised for things they have been directed to do."

In a statement, school system officials said they were "exercising good stewardship of both resources and the environment" in "weeding out" textbooks.

While educators and others said they saw books in trash bins, the school system said the books were put in large recycle bins owned by the city that resemble Dumpsters.

In the case of schools that are closing, the statement said, the district attempts to reuse some books in other schools.

"When books/educational materials at any school are deemed to be no longer usable — whether because of content or condition — they are recycled or, occasionally, sold to a book-resale vendor," the statement said. "Generally, these include texts with copyright dates prior to 2000 or that are damaged."

Two city councilmen and others in the community were fuming Tuesday as they wondered what would happen to the hundreds of books that remained at the school.

Rubin browsed the book room, where copies of "The Return of the Native" by Thomas Hardy and "Paradise Lost" by John Milton remained. Teachers said a school administrator announced that there would be no more books thrown away, no matter the publication date.

City Councilman Carl Stokes, who said he watched Monday as books were poured from a bin into the back of a city dump truck at Heritage, called the move nonsensical.

Stokes went to the school after receiving calls from community members who said they were being blocked from taking the books to distribute to students and school libraries, or to start classes on topics such as financial literacy.

"I was greatly disappointed that they were throwing them in the Dumpster, when there were people wanting to take them," Stokes said. "I couldn't believe it — that I had just watched a loader take a Dumpster full of books."

Stokes said he called the school system headquarters to tell them not to dispose of them and that a district representative told him the books were out of date. But Stokes said he took an accounting textbook that looks brand new and contains content that will always be relevant.

"I still think two plus two equals four, and a balance sheet still needs to balance," Stokes said. "Out of date for book companies means that they change the cover and resell the system another $1 million worth of books."

Local business owner Terence J. Dickson, who called Stokes and other members of the City Council about the books, dived into the school's recycle bin twice to retrieve books that had been thrown out. He said he also saw books in trash cans.

Over the years, Dickson, the owner of Terra Cafe, has helped to restock school libraries from donations. He hoped to continue doing that with the books from Heritage and also to donate them to recreation centers.

"I had teachers with tears in their eyes, who were so upset to see those books go in," Dickson said.

Photographs Dickson shared with The Baltimore Sun show recycle bins filled to the brim with books, including math textbooks such as algebra and accounting. The titles included "Hamlet," "The Meaning of the Constitution" and "When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore." He even found a record album of "The Wiz."

At least one textbook with several copies in the recycle bin was published in 2011, The Sun found.

Dickson said he was denied access by the school's administrators to take the books and was escorted out of the building.

"You sit and you collect a check every week because you say you care about kids," said Dickson. "But you can't and do something like this."

City Councilman Brandon Scott said he also called school officials to express concern after he was contacted by Dickson about the discarded books.

"In light of all that's been going on in Baltimore over the last few months, we have to realize that it's all hands on deck," Scott said.

"And when we have people from the business community who realize that and want to take books that aren't being used anymore to help other children, they shouldn't have to call me to do so."

One of the lasting memories that Shamarla McCoy, a Spanish teacher at Heritage High, will have of her school is a "circus" as people came by to pick through books and pile them in their cars.

"It was just very disheartening to see the total disregard for books," she said of the system's decision to dispose of the books. "A book will never go out of style. It was really sad. It was like 'wow, what a waste.' "

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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Ex-Ravens cheerleader Molly Shattuck pleads guilty to rape

Jun 16, 2015 11:00 PM EDT

Baltimore socialite and former Ravens cheerleader Molly Shattuck pleaded guilty to statutory rape Tuesday, admitting in a few brief words to an affair with a 15-year-old boy — a plea that leaves her branded as a felon and a sex offender.

Shattuck, 48, the former wife of former Constellation Energy CEO Mayo A. Shattuck, was accused in November of sexually abusing one of her son's classmates, including performing oral sex on him in a rented vacation house in Bethany Beach.

She kept her head down as she entered the small courthouse and gripped the hands of two women as she bustled into the courtroom. Seated at a trial table with her attorney, Eugene Maurer, she jerked up from her seat when Judge E. Scott Bradley entered, and she showed no obvious emotion.

The judge leafed through the plea agreement before posing a series of questions. "Did you commit the offense you are pleading guilty to?" he asked.

"Yes," Shattuck said.

No statement of facts was read in support of the plea, and prosecutor John Donahue did not take part in the proceeding.

Shattuck, a self-styled fitness guru who was the oldest cheerleader in NFL history, could face up to 15 years in prison for the fourth-degree rape charge when she is sentenced at a hearing set for Aug. 21.

A number of other charges, including more serious third-degree rape counts, were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

Michael W. Modica, a former Delaware prosecutor, said the deal seemed typical. He said sentencing guidelines call for up to two years in prison, but noted that they are not binding on the judge.

"I don't think she was treated any differently because she was a woman," said Modica, who is now a defense attorney. "She's looking at a pretty serious potential sentence."

As part of the plea, Shattuck agreed to forgo any unsupervised contact with children, except her own, and to have DNA and HIV tests as well as a mental health evaluation that will include "sexual disorder counseling."

Perhaps the most serious consequence of the plea, Modica said, is that she'll have to register as a sex offender. Shattuck's plea calls for her to register for 25 years on Delaware's list, and because she lives in Maryland, Delaware police will notify Maryland officials, who will consider whether she needs to register under Maryland law.

Modica called having to register a burden she'll carry for a long time and "almost worse than a jail sentence."

The affair began in May 2014, when Shattuck began a flirtation with the boy — a McDonogh School student — on the social networking site Instagram, according to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Baltimore County District Court.

The Baltimore Sun does not name victims of sexual crimes.

As the relationship developed over the summer, Shattuck took the boy out of school to kiss him in the back seat of her Escalade, according to the documents. Then over Labor Day weekend, while on vacation with her children at Bethany Beach, she performed oral sex on him twice, investigators alleged.

Just months before, Shattuck had sat for a Baltimore Sun interview that showed her confidently working through her separation with her husband and forging a new, independent identity. But the sexual abuse allegations left Shattuck's carefully crafted image as a devoted mother and charity worker in tatters.

The Shattucks' divorce, which ended a 17-year marriage, was finalized days after a nine-count indictment against her was unsealed in November. Custody arrangements for their three children have not been publicized, but Modica said her ex-husband could use the rape conviction as ammunition in any dispute.

As she awaited trial, Shattuck was free on an $84,000 bond. Her guilty plea came the day before a hearing that was to be the last before the case headed to trial.

After the hearing, Shattuck stood motionless in the courtroom for a few moments, looking toward the benches where about a half-dozen reporters were grouped. She then wandered back to the trial table and stood there until one of her lawyers called to her and led her into the public gallery.

Shattuck signed some paperwork and Maurer took her into a private room to talk.

Outside, some onlookers waited on the pavement in front of the courthouse eager to see who the news cameras were waiting for.

Shattuck, surrounded by a group of women who had been with her all day, emerged from the building and crossed the street to a waiting SUV. She ignored the shouted questions of reporters, as did her lawyers. She got in on the driver's side and one of the women held a purse against the window, blocking the view inside until the vehicle drove off into traffic.

Trinity Goldsborough watched from inside the bail bonds office where she works, a phone pressed to her ear. She knew about the case.

"It is crazy," Goldsborough said. "Hopefully she got what she deserved."

Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector, Jean Marbella and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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Police, Mayor butt heads with union over reform

Jun 16, 2015 08:28 PM EDT

A dispute between Baltimore police, the police union and the mayor's office burst into public view Tuesday as the union questioned the Police Department's commitment to reform, while police officials and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake accused the union of misleading the public.

The Fraternal Order of Police said Tuesday that it was moving forward with an "after action report" of what occurred during the riots, but without command transmission tapes that it has requested from the Police Department. Union President Lt. Gene Ryan said in a statement that Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts "has missed an opportunity to regain the trust of the city as well as the rank and file police officers."

"The bottom line is simply that our leadership — Commissioner Batts and State's Attorney [Marilyn] Mosby — has done nothing since the riots to investigate protocol shortcomings and better prepare our officers," Ryan said. "This is obviously a concern to my members, but should also greatly concern the citizens of Baltimore City. The conditions that led to the riot are still present and any incident can serve, once again, as a flash point."

Police accused Ryan and his public relations staff of grandstanding, and said he had not objected to an end-of-the-week deadline for the agency to provide the records. Rawlings-Blake said the union's statements were "without basis and do nothing to help our city heal."

Freddie Gray's death while in police custody sparked days of protest that culminated with rioting, looting and arson on April 27, the day of his funeral. Union representatives have said officers were ill-equipped and unprotected when they responded to Mondawmin Mall, the location of the first violent clashes.

About 160 officers were injured by bricks, stones and other objects hurled at them, police union representatives say. The union said officers didn't have shields or riot gear to protect themselves and were further hindered by command officers issuing "stand down" orders that forbade them from engaging the rock throwers.

Batts has denied that any of his command staff gave such an order. Union representatives have countered by requesting — through the Maryland Public Information Act — command transmission tapes, emails and text messages to determine if such an order was issued.

On Tuesday, Ryan said the union has not been given "all written correspondence and radio transmissions between City Hall and the Baltimore Police Department during the riots."

"For more than a month, we have repeatedly requested that this information be provided to no avail," his statement said. "The fact that we have not been supplied the appropriate information shows obvious inaction or, quite possibly, an intentional stall tactic on the part of both the [Baltimore Police Department] and City Hall."

Police officials objected to what they said was a union characterization that the agency wasn't improving safety and working conditions. The department listed 11 reforms under way, including training and the purchase of new equipment. The agency also said the International Association of Chiefs of Police is doing an independent review of the police response to the riots.

"There is no desire on behalf of the Baltimore Police Department to engage in a 'war of words' with FOP Lodge 3," the agency said in its statement.

Rawlings-Blake said she looked forward to sharing information and to the city's own review, which will show "the full truth of what happened during the moments before and after the unrest."

"It will be made clear that I never ordered the brave men and women of the Baltimore Police Department to stand down," she said.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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Rocky Gap proposes new slots, outdoor gambling

Jun 16, 2015 06:38 PM EDT

Rocky Gap Casino Resort, whose owner and operator plans to merge with a Nevada company, is seeking Maryland regulators' approval to add 54 slot machines and create a new outdoor gaming area, according to state records.

The request, if approved at Thursday's meeting of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, would boost the Cumberland-area casino's slots total to 631 even as other Maryland casinos have been cutting back on slot machines.

The casino would place 24 of the machines on the current gambling floor and 30 in a new outdoor area, according to descriptions of its plans posted on the regulatory agency's website. The outdoor area would be enclosed on three sides and have a roof with a 3-foot overhang on the fourth.

The documents contained no cost estimate for the addition, and Scott Just, the casino's general manager, declined to comment until after Thursday's meeting, said spokesman Joshua Taustein.

Separately, the gaming control agency staff is recommending approval of the proposed merger of Lakes Entertainment, which owns the resort, and Las Vegas-based Golden Gaming. The commission will vote Thursday on the $128 million merger.

After Lakes and Golden announced plans in January to create Golden Entertainment, the agency began an investigation of the company and its principals' financial stability, background and experience.

"Based on our investigation, MLGCA staff has determined that this proposed merger meets and is consistent with the gaming law," the staff said in the draft of a report to be presented at the meeting. "In addition, we conclude that Golden Gaming, its principal entity and principals, have established by clear and convincing evidence their qualifications for licensure."

Golden Gaming operates casinos and taverns, and a subsidiary known as Golden Route Operations installs and operates thousands of gambling machines in taverns, convenience stores and other retailers in Nevada.

In recent years, Golden Gaming "has been saddled with substantial amounts of long-term debt at high interest rates resulting in a continual drain on Golden Gaming's financial resources," the agency staff said in the draft memorandum.

"Overall, Golden Gaming's financial position and operating performance has not been positive but has shown definite signs of steady improvement over the period reviewed (Dec. 31, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2014)," the draft said.

The agency said an expansion of its route and casino operations in 2012 "significantly strengthened Golden Gaming's existing market positions, and bolstered its revenue. This, coupled with Golden Gaming's ability to control its operating costs, has led to positive and steadily improving operating results."

Lakes' principal asset is Rocky Gap, the once-troubled, state-owned resort it acquired for $6.8 million in 2012. Lakes opened a $35 million casino there in 2013 in an area that once housed the lakeside golf resort's conference center.

The casino, which also has 17 table games, generated $4.2 million in May, an increase of 12.7 percent over May 2014.

The draft memorandum said Lakes "has significant amounts of cash and other liquid assets and are not highly leveraged, which should greatly benefit the company post-merger."

While Rocky Gap hopes to increase the number of slots, other casinos have been reducing their offerings.

In January, the commission approved requests by the Maryland Live and Horseshoe Baltimore casinos to eliminate 300 slot machines each and add more profitable table games.

jebarker@baltsun.com

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Summer racing schedule at Laurel Park moved up to July

Jun 16, 2015 02:05 PM EDT

Laurel Park will host live racing in July after the Maryland Racing Commission approved a plan Tuesday to shift dates from late in the year to the heart of summer.

The summer schedule at Laurel Park will begin July 3 instead of in early August, with the track staging racing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the month. The Maryland Jockey Club asked to shift the race dates from weekdays late in the year with an eye toward creating a new Friday twilight series featuring live music and food and other family-oriented days. The overall calendar will remain at 149 racing days.

"The idea of us coming in here and shaking things up is to grow revenue," said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for the Stronach Group, the Jockey Club's parent company. "It's an effort to try to grow the sport, to try to get more families out there in the summertime."

The Jockey Club had previous avoided scheduling July races as part of a 10-year cooperative agreement with Virginia racing officials. But with Colonial Downs closed, that restriction no longer applies.

In a broader update on the physical improvements at Laurel, Ritvo noted grading for a second set of new barns will start this week with the goal of having 300 stalls ready for use by Nov. 1. That project will cost $3-4 million.

Ritvo said the Stronach Group is also looking to revamp the simulcast room on the first floor at Laurel Park and to add new arcade rooms in hopes of attracting families and younger fans.

The focus on Laurel Park comes after a successful spring meet at Pimlico Race Course, where revenue was up 25 percent from 2014.


With Md. crabs scarcer than usual, prices from other sources rise

Jun 15, 2015 07:06 PM EDT

With Father's Day looming, consumers' appetite for steamed crabs is growing.

But restaurants are paying $50 to $60 more per bushel for crabs than they did at this time last year - and consumers are paying $2 to $15 more per dozen, according to local restaurateurs.

Though locally caught crabs are rarely plentiful this time of year, a scarcity of mature Maryland crabs has been driving up prices for all sources of crabs for Maryland restaurants, say many in the industry.

"This is one of the slimmest springs we've seen in a long time," said Anthony Conrad of Parkville-based Conrad's Crabs & Seafood Market. "The price ... is outrageous for a box of Louisiana male crabs," he said - typically about $250, it's now about $60 higher. The price for a bushel of Maryland crabs is lower - anywhere from $130 to $180 a bushel. But there aren't nearly enough Maryland crabs to supply Maryland restaurants.

Conrad catches some of the crabs he uses for his restaurants and seafood market, and buys others directly from Maryland watermen. He'll rely on Louisiana and Carolina crabs when he has to. He's charging customers $59 a dozen for large crabs.

The short supply of Maryland crabs has a broad impact, even affecting the prices of crabs at restaurants that primarily buy crabs from elsewhere, he said.

"It means that prices of crabs are going to be much higher because the suppliers in North Carolina and Louisiana are going to be charging more," Conrad said. "So it makes it a fun industry."

The catch this year has been leaner than usual, says Brenda Davis, chief of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' crab program.

"We've got a really slow start in Maryland," said Davis. There were fewer crabs to harvest at the start of the season in April, she said, because last winter's bitter cold killed a lot of the adult crustaceans that slumbered on the bottom in Maryland waters. The annual winter survey of the crab population found that, across the entire bay, 19 percent of adult crabs perished; in Maryland, that number rose to 28 percent.

The bay's overall crab population has come back some from the dismal condition it was in last year, when the survey found the number of adult female crabs had been depleted. This year, following a season of tightened restrictions on the harvest of female crabs, the survey saw a 35 percent increase in the number of juvenile crabs. But those won't be large enough to harvest until later in the summer or fall, she said.

"We started the season with a bunch of small crabs," Davis said "so we've got to wait for more crabs to move in and grow up."

Baltimore County crabber Richard Young said he's had slim pickings for Coveside Crabs, the Dundalk business he co-owns. On Friday, he said, the 210 pots he's set in the bay held fewer than six dozen crabs fit for steaming. And while his daily catch this time of year normally includes several dozen "peelers" - young crabs nearly ready to slough their shells, so they can be sold as soft crabs - he only came back with nine on Friday.

"We are seeing some smaller crabs," Young said, "but it's not an astronomical number."

Crab houses that use a mix of Maryland and out-of-state suppliers said they will continue to use crabs from elsewhere while they wait for the Maryland supply to increase. But it's painful.

"We're battling through high prices, the highest we've ever paid," said Pete Triantafilos, whose family owns Costas Inn on North Point Boulevard in Dundalk.

Triantafilos said the cost per bushel for crabs from Texas is up 50 percent from last year. With Maryland crabs in short supply, there's not much choice but to pay the price.

"There's nothing to offset the market," he said.

For Costas' customers, that means paying $80 a dozen for large crabs, versus $78 at this time last year.

"As far as expenses on restaurants, it takes its toll," Triantafilos said. "Crabs have always been a draw, but they've never been a moneymaker. But now it's very difficult. You can literally buy lobsters cheaper than you can crabs."

"We have had [crabs] available on a constant basis," said Bruce Whelan, a manager at Jimmy Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis. "We haven't had a problem getting them."

Whelan said that most of the restaurant's crabs are from Louisiana and Texas, but as the season goes on, more will be from Maryland. Those crabs are more expensive this year than last, Whelan said, "about $50 [per box, or about 11/4 bushels] more expensive than they were last year at this time."

That price increase translates to the crab table. "The dozen large crabs that went for $75 this time last year is $90 now," Whelan said.

"We try as much as we can to use local crabs," Whelan said. "Because the water was so cold this winter, it's going to take a while. They're starting to come in more and more."

For crab lovers like John Schweitzer, the cost of a crab dinner is still worth it.

"It would have to get awful expensive for me to give it up," Schweitzer said. "Even when we were kids, we didn't get crabs all the time; it was a real treat."

Schweitzer said a crab feast is about something more than food. "My sister was visiting from Ohio, and she wanted to go [to Costas Inn]. We were there for two hours and had a great time."

Terri Mitchell, a 53-year-old Northwest Baltimore resident, eats a meal of the crustaceans once a week. But Mitchell finds that as the price of crabs rises, she has to be more creative about how she treats herself.

"If you eat crabs, you're going to find a way to eat them," she said, "but they're very expensive."

"I remember a long time ago when they were $20 a dozen. Now, they're $50, and they're small. I don't think that's fair because they're our state mascot. I scout for sales and for deals. Maybe I'll have crabs on a Wednesday night, when there's a special, instead of on the weekends. It's just a mess."

Whelan said he expects the supply of Maryland crabs to "break loose" in the next week or 10 days, but that Father's Day and the Fourth of July, along with the return home of college students and lacrosse tournaments, traditional occasions for crab feasts, will likely keep the prices of crabs high across the board.

Whelan said the best bet for consumers looking for reasonably priced crabs is to wait until after the Fourth of July.

"By the end of July, it's going to be a very good season," Conrad aid. ""It's a very bright future."

Barry Koluch, co-owner of Cravin' Crabs in Lansdowne, said, his father, Paul, a crabber, typically pulls in two to three bushels of crabs a day from Maryland waters. This year, he's been averaging less than one bushel a day. That means Koluch has had to have crabs shipped in from Louisiana and Virginia in place of Maryland crabs.

"It's been a rough season so far," he said.

Making matters worse is the fact that the cost to ship crabs in from other regions is very high, he said.

"They know we don't have crabs," he said of vendors selling the Maryland favorites from the Gulf of Mexico.

But with a steady demand, he said, he is forced to pay whatever the vendors demand until the Maryland season picks up. "It's just sad because we're stuck," he said.

For now, Conrad said, the business will be tough for retailers and restaurateurs.

"Crabs are becoming a luxury item," Conrad said. "It's no longer, 'Let's go out and get some crabs.'"

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Tim Wheeler, Mary Carole McCauley and Heather Norris contributed to this article.

richard.gorelick@baltsun.com

twitter.com/gorelickingood


Fire causes extensive damage to 127-year-old Havre de Grace home

Jun 16, 2015 09:10 PM EDT

Three juveniles are charged with starting a fire that caused $250,000 damage to a 127-year-old house in Havre de Grace early Saturday morning.

The three boys were riding their bikes around Havre de Grace early Saturday morning "doing pranks," Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said Tuesday. They were throwing sparklers and snap tops and ringing people's doorbells and running away, he said. One of those sparklers started a fire that caused an estimated $200,000 damage to the house at 123 S. Union Ave. and $50,000 damage to its contents.

"I'm glad we were able to give closure to this family and the community. Everyone was worried there was a serial arsonist running around. We're glad to say there is not, it was just juveniles running around," Alkire said.

Firefighters from companies on both sides of the Susquehanna River were dispatched at 12:41 a.m. Saturday to the house, owned by Scott and Karen Gorsuch, where a passerby reported seeing the fire, Alkire said.

People passing the house saw a small fire on a chair on the front porch, he said.

"That quickly, quickly escalated, within a matter of 1 to 2 minutes it spread to the front of the home," Alkire said.

It took 100 firefighters from the Susquehanna Hose Company, of Havre de Grace; Aberdeen Fire Department; Level Volunteer Fire Company; Darlington Volunteer Fire Company; Community of Perryville; and Water Witch Volunteer Fire Company, of Port Deposit, 45 minutes to control the fire.

Karen Gorsuch was asleep upstairs and Scott Gorsuch was falling asleep in the living room, when he saw the orange glow at the same time the people were passing by out front, Alkire said. The couple escaped out a back door.

Also at the same time, a Havre de Grace Police officer going past saw the fire.

Firefighters from the Susquehanna Hose Company rescued the family dog.

The fire spread quickly up the front exterior of the home, Alkire said, and started into the attic.

"The fire department was able to control it before it got into the attic," he added.

The house was built in 1888, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation website.

"The wood is original to the structure. There is no doubt in my mind that was a factor in how quickly the fire escalated," Alkire said. "It's so sad because it's such a beautiful, such a gorgeous home."

The homeowners don't smoke and there were no candles or electric on the porch, Alkire said.

An accelerant sniffing dog responded to the home. Alkire said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Juveniles on bikes were seen in the area just before the fire started, according to Alkire, who later said they were causing mischief and threw sparklers or rang the doorbells at two other homes on Union Avenue the same night.

During the investigation into the fire, Alkire said, fire officials identified a 15-year-old boy from Havre de Grace as the "main culprit." Two others - a 15-year-old boy from Conowingo and a 14-year-old from Havre de Grace - were also involved.

When they got to the house at 123 S. Union, the boy allegedly ran up to the home, lit a sparkler and threw it on a seat cushion, then rang the doorbell and the three got on their bikes and took off around the corner, he said.

A Havre de Grace Police officer in the area saw the boys' bikes that had been dumped in the middle of the street and told them to pick them up and go home, Alkire said.

"He didn't think anything of it," Alkire said.

Then the officer drove up Union Avenue and saw the fire.

Other witnesses reported seeing the boys, which helped fire investigators identify them.

The 15-year-old from Havre de Grace is charged with first- and second-degree arson, first- and second-degree malicious burning and two counts of reckless endangerment. The other two are charges as accessories to those crimes, Alkire said, since they didn't commit the crimes, but "they were there, they should have notified someone."

All three were released to the custody of their parents.

During its Monday night meeting, the Havre de Grace City Council praised the quick response by firefighters.

"Fires do happen in the 21st century and seconds matter," Mayor Bill Martin said, calling it "amazing" that they were able to control a fire in a house more than 100 years old.

He said he was very thankful to have "great volunteers" in the city who are so concerned about residents' lives and property.


Futuristic 'Hoverbike' to be developed in Harford County

Jun 16, 2015 07:19 PM EDT

Looking like something out of the Star Wars movie "Return of the Jedi," a Hoverbike may be much closer to reality.

A Harford County defense firm is helping a British firm to develop a bike-like hovering craft for the U.S. Department of Defense, Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford announced Tuesday at the Paris Air Show.

The Hoverbike is a type of drone that could one day be flown manned or unmanned for military or civilian tasks. Belcamp-based SURVICE Engineering Co. is partnering with U.K.-based Malloy Aeronautics, an aeronautical engineering firm, to develop the craft as a reconnaissance vehicle under a research and development contract with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

A model of the Hoverbike is on display at the Paris Air Show, which runs through June 21. Attending the show, Rutherford called the Hoverbike "a new frontier in aviation."

Malloy Aeronautics, founded in 2012, announced it established an office in Belcamp next to the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground to work on designing the bike. Its business partner, SURVICE, has offered research and development support to the Defense Department for more than 30 years.

Malloy first tried making a "bicopter" with two propellers, but has since moved toward a more stable "quadcopter" design with four propellers. The Hoverbike would be used in place of a helicopter for tasks like search-and-rescue, film, and cattle mustering, the company says.

cwells@baltsun.com


Big MARC fare hikes cause riders to press Hogan for hearings

Jun 15, 2015 09:16 PM EDT

MARC train riders urged Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday to delay fare increases announced by the Maryland Transit Administration and to order the agency to hold public hearings on hikes of as much as 67 percent for weekly ticket purchasers.

The MARC Riders Advisory Council, a group that advises the MTA on commuter concerns, called on Hogan to intervene before increases affecting about 36,000 daily commuters take effect. The hikes are part of a broader rise in MTA fares required under the 2013 law that raised the state's gas tax, but the riders contend the MTA went much too far in raising the fares for MARC weekly and monthly plans.

Steve Chan, chairman of the advisory council, said hearings would at least give riders the opportunity to hear the agency's explanation for the increases.

"We were not offered an opportunity to discuss this, and it would be a good thing for public relations if the governor at least allowed it to be discussed," he said.

The MTA announced May 26 it was imposing a "legislatively mandated transit fare increase" as of June 25. It pointed to the landmark law pushed through the legislature in 2013 to raise revenue to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund.

While the most publicized and debated parts of that bill involved increases in the gas tax, the measure also required the MTA to periodically raise transit fares to account for inflation.

Asked whether Hogan would order the public hearings, the governor's office sidestepped the question and put the responsibility for the increases on the Democratic-controlled legislature.

"MTA fare increases due to take effect this month are required by law under Maryland's Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, which is also known as the Gas Tax bill, and was signed into law by the previous administration," said Matthew A. Clark, Hogan's communications director.

The General Assembly's advisory arm, the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services, described the law differently. It said the 2013 legislation requires the MTA to raise fares but does not specify changes it must make to the weekly and monthly plans.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, later said the increases to the monthly and weekly passes are higher because they reflect the addition of weekend service in late 2013 — something pass holders can use without paying an extra fare.

Henson insisted public hearings are not required, saying they are necessary only if the MTA goes beyond what's called for by law. She said the MARC increases are the minimum mandated by law.

Under the increases announced in May, the basic transit fare on MTA buses, light rail and the Baltimore Metro will rise from $1.60, where it has been frozen for more than a decade, to $1.70. Basic fares for MARC tickets will increase by $1 a ride, whether for a current $4 ticket from College Park to Washington's Union Station or an $11 ticket from Perryville to Washington.

The cost of a one-way ticket between Baltimore and Washington, now $7, will increase to $8. MARC fares have not risen since 2003.

The increases for transit users are coming one month after the Hogan administration gave motorists a break by reducing tolls on bridges, tunnels and highways operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Chan said MARC riders have no quarrel with the $1-a-ticket basic fare increase. But the advisory council is fighting the MTA's changes to its weekly and monthly ticket plans. Chan said that while the Consumer Price Index rose a little more than 10 percent over five years, the MARC increases are as high as 67 percent.

In effect, MTA is abolishing the break that MARC riders have typically received for buying tickets in a weekly block. Where a commuter between Baltimore and Washington can now purchase a week's worth of tickets for $52.50, after June 26 the same purchase would cost $80 — an increase of more than 50 percent and the same amount a rider would pay for buying 10 one-way tickets.

Rafi Guroian, the council's former chairman and still a spokesman for the group, said that is far more than the MTA led the riders' group to believe it would impose in meetings before last month.

"We know this was coming," Guroian said. "We just did not know the fare increases would be different from what was previously described, nor did we know it would be so brutal."

MARC riders at Penn Station expressed dismay Monday afternoon over the increases.

Harry Carr, a Washington resident, said jokingly that he'd have to quit his job at Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore. "I didn't realize the increase was so much, but I guess I'll just have to roll with it," said Carr, 70, who buys a monthly pass at a senior discount.

Dave Treece, who commutes to Washington from Baltimore each day for his job with the Veterans Administration, said the increase in price for his monthly pass "is gonna hurt."

"It'd be nice to know what the justification is for such a large increase," said Treece, 58. "I wasn't surprised there was an increase, but I was surprised at the amount."

The planned increases for monthly purchases are not as steep as for buying tickets by the week but are still much higher than those for single ticket purchases. For instance, the monthly cost of commuting between Baltimore and Washington will jump from $175 to $216 — a 23 percent increase. The cost of traveling to Washington from the heavily used stations at BWI Marshall Airport and Halethorpe will go from $150 to $189, or 26 percent.

Sen. James E. "Ed" DeGrange, the Anne Arundel County Democrat who chairs a transportation subcommittee, said lawmakers of both parties believed fare increases were necessary to push the MTA toward its statutory goal of 35 percent farebox recovery.

"I don't think that's an unfair percentage," he said, noting that services would still be 65 percent subsidized by taxpayers.

But DeGrange said he sympathizes with the riders' call for public hearings.

"That certainly would be reasonable so the general public has input and knows what basis they've been using for the numbers," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

mdresser@baltsun.com

Sample MARC fare increases

Baltimore-Washington

Penn and Camden lines

Daily one-way: Now $7, rises to $8

Weekly two-way: Now $52.50, rises to $80

Monthly two-way: Now $175, rises to $216

Perryville-Washington

Penn Line

Daily one-way: Now $11, rises to $12

Weekly two-way: Now $82.50, rises to $120

Monthly two-way: Now $275, rises to $324

Halethorpe/BWI Airport-Washington

Penn Line

Daily one-way: Now $6, rises to $7

Weekly two-way: Now $45, rises to $70

Monthly two-way: Now $150, rises to $189

Effective June 25