<b>Plaugher Sunny about Fire Funding</b>

While he’s in Atlanta this week, Arlington Fire Chief Edward Plaugher was optimistic about how the fire department will fare in Arlington budget deliberations.

The County Board held its last scheduled budget work session Tuesday night, and members are due to approve a county budget at their April 20 meeting, this Saturday.

As board deliberations wind up, Plaugher is at the National disaster Medical System conference in Atlanta, meeting with some 2,000 managers of emergency response teams from around the country.

The conference has given him a comprehensive look at disasters preparedness across the US in the last year, not just stemming from the attacks on Sept. 11, but from floods in Houston, security surrounding the Olympics and the anthrax attacks last fall.

"It’s the full breadth of disaster preparedness," Plaugher said. "This is a puzzle with lots of pieces in it."

So how does Arlington stack up? "We have to continue to push the envelope," he said, "as far and as fast as we can push it."

It is vital, Plaugher said, for Arlington to stay prepared for any eventuality. "There’s the opportunity, after living through this type of incident, to say, ‘Oh, we’re well-prepared, we don’t need to do more,’" Plaugher said. "Wrong. That’s not how we got where we are now."

But he said that was not the attitude he heard from the board. Even as the county board contemplates tax rate and budget cuts, board members said they would not be willing to sacrifice public safety to cut the budget.

Both Plaugher and Police Chief Edward Flynn said they expect to see full funding for their departments, including some improvements not included in the initial budget.

With that in mind, the county board’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission supported a board plan to increase staffing in the fire department over the next year, rather than phasing in increases over the course of the next three years.

The commission, which advises board members on budget issues, also issued a resolution calling on the county to fund two more hazardous material removal trucks, operated by the fire department.

<b>Attorney Cleared in Fatal Crash</b>

A special prosecutor appointed by the state announced last week that he would bring no charges against a county Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney involved in a fatal car accident in December.

Donald Caldwell, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Roanoke, said his investigation had found no evidence of wrongdoing in the death of Luis Alberto Lopez on Dec. 21, 2001.

Lopez died after he was struck by a car driven by Anthony Hudgins, a 34-year-old Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County.

Lopez was crossing South Glebe Road, in the 2800 block, at about 11 p.m. on Dec. 21, when he was struck by Hudgins’ car.

Hudgins told police he had been driving north on the road when he saw two men, Lopez and another man, crossing the southbound lanes of South Glebe, and stop on the concrete median. Lopez then stepped off of the median, in front of Hudgins’ car.

Hudgins stopped and called police. Lopez died at the scene. According to toxicology tests, the dead man’s blood alcohol content was 0.24 percent, almost three times the limit to be considered too drunk to drive.

Tests conducted by State Police found no alcohol or drugs in Hudgins’ blood, Caldwell said. Based on those tests, and the accounts of other motorists and Lopez’s companion, Caldwell said he found no evidence to support criminal charges against Hudgins.

<b>Police Nab Car Thieves on e-Bay</b>

Arlington detectives arrested two men for grand larceny on April 3, after an online sting operation showed that the men were selling stolen auto parts on e-Bay.

A county resident reported that the wheels and tires from his car had been stolen on March 26, and that the next day, he saw identical tires for sale on the online auction site.

Detectives posed as interested buyers, contacting the seller of the tires. They set up a meeting, and arrested the man at his home, where they found another two truckloads of stolen auto parts, worth about $25,000.

The suspect identified an accomplice, and a search of that man’s home turned up more stolen parts. Both men were charged with grand larceny, and are free on bail. Police say they are suspects in more than a dozen cases involving stolen luxury import auto parts.

They said e-Bay was very cooperative in the investigation.

"It is very clear that they do not want to be a venue for the sale of stolen goods and that they will work closely with law enforcement to catch thieves," said Paul Guevara, an Arlington detective.