Thursday, April 30, 2020

Possible break in Fairland home invasion case

Montgomery County detectives appear to be making progress in their investigation of the January 10, 2020 home invasion in the 3000 block of Piano Lane in the Fairland area of Silver Spring. A Howard County man has been arrested and charged with home invasion and conspiracy to commit home invasion, and one count of armed robbery. The home invasion date is listed in court records as having taken place on January 10, 2020. Police have not yet made a public statement regarding the arrest or its context.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Aspen Hill Outback Steakhouse lays off 53 employees

More Montgomery County workers are finding themselves out of work in the coronavirus pandemic. The Outback Steakhouse at 13703 Georgia Avenue in Aspen Hill announced Tuesday it has laid off 53 employees. Layoffs were effective Monday, according to documents OS Restaurant, LLC filed with the state of Maryland yesterday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Gas station robbed in Silver Spring

A gas station in the Veirs Mill Village area of Silver Spring was robbed Saturday, according to crime data. An armed robbery was reported to police in the 4100 block of Randolph Road around 12:35 PM that afternoon. The weapon used was not a gun, data indicates. It's notable that a non-firearm armed robbery of the Dunkin' Donuts in this same commercial area was committed earlier this month.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Carjacking in Takoma Park

A strong-arm carjacking was reported to the Takoma Park police department early yesterday morning at 1:55 AM. According to crime data, the carjacking occurred in a residential parking lot of a building in the 7700 block of Maple Avenue.

Strong-arm robbery in Silver Spring

A strong-arm robbery was reported in Silver Spring just after midnight early Saturday morning. The robbery occurred in the parking lot of Stonegate Elementary School on Notley Road.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Rash of auto thefts in East Montgomery County

At least 6 vehicles stolen from
Silver Spring, Takoma Park, 
Woodside Park, Woodside Forest

Car thieves have let themselves out of the coronavirus lockdown early in Montgomery County. Several cars have been stolen in Silver Spring and Takoma Park in recent days. One was stolen from outside a house in the 7500 block of Dundalk Road in Takoma Park Wednesday evening. Another was taken from a Silver Spring driveway in the 600 block of Thayer Avenue just three hours earlier the same night.

A car was also stolen from a driveway in the 1700 block of Grace Church Road in Woodside Park at 10:00 PM the previous night. A fourth was snatched not far away, again from a driveway, in the 1300 block of Midwood Place in Woodside Forest, only an hour earlier. Earlier that afternoon, a car was stolen from a home in the unit block of Columbia Avenue in Takoma Park. But wait - the same afternoon, another car was taken from an auto repair business in the 900 block of Philadelphia Avenue.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Judge orders Maryland to hand over Montgomery County voter data in voter fraud investigation

MoCo has more names registered to
vote than citizens eligible to vote

A federal judge has ruled that the Maryland must hand over the voting registration data of Montgomery County voters to Judicial Watch, a right-wing government watchdog organization. Judicial Watch filed the suit several years ago when a review of public data revealed that there are more names registered to vote in Montgomery County than there are citizens eligible to vote.

The Maryland Board of Elections refused to hand over the voter data after earlier legal action. Elections Administrator Linda Lamone went as far as to delete the voter birthdate box on the registration form. That action was one that U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Hollander seized upon in her ruling for Judicial Watch.

Judge Hollander stated in her opinion that:

"Judicial Watch need not demonstrate its need for birth date information in order to facilitate its effort to ensure that the voter rolls are properly maintained. Nevertheless, it has put forward reasonable justifications for requiring birth date information, including using birth dates to find duplicate registrations and searching for voters who remain on the rolls despite 'improbable' age."

"Because full voter birth dates appear on completed voter registration applications, the Administrator may not bypass the Act by unilaterally revising the Application."

Judicial Watch had stated its intention to sue Maryland over the issues with the Montgomery County voter rolls in 2017, if the state did not remove names of ineligible voters, or of those who had passed away or moved out of the county. A man noted on Twitter in a post just last week that voting records showed his mother continuing to "vote" in Montgomery County elections for a full decade after her death.

Maryland and Montgomery County rebuffed Judicial Watch at the time. The organization filed suit over Montgomery County's "impossibly high registration rate – over 100 percent of its age-eligible citizenry" later that year.

“Maryland politicians fought us tooth and nail to keep Judicial Watch from uncovering the full truth about their dirty election rolls,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement yesterday. “This latest court victory will allow Judicial Watch to ensure Maryland and Montgomery County are removing voters who have moved or died long ago.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Gunfire heard again in Fairland

The mystery shooter who has been heard firing weapons in the Fairland/Burtonsville area at least six times this month may have fired again. Someone reported hearing shots fired in the 13900 block of Castle Boulevard in Fairland to Montgomery County police just after midnight early Monday morning, according to crime data. 

Previous incidents of gunfire have been reported across an area between Silver Spruce Circle in Burtonsville and just north of Briggs Chaney Market Place on Castle Boulevard in Fairland. Casings have been found at some scenes, and one 18-year-old male was wounded in the Wexhall Terrace shooting. Police have not issued any information about this latest April 20 weapons discharge report.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Motel Georgian Silver Spring artifact on eBay

What a fabulous Silver Spring historical find! An original glass ashtray from the famed Motel Georgian at 7990 Georgia Avenue is now up for auction on eBay. The grand hotel was home to the Georgian Cellar restaurant. Later, it was a Comfort Inn, and today is a Holiday Inn Express.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Strong arm robbery in Silver Spring

A strong-arm robbery was reported to Montgomery County police yesterday morning in Silver Spring just south of Wheaton. The robbery occurred in an apartment building in the 10800 block of Georgia Avenue around 7:17 AM Sunday, according to crime data.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Police search for suspects in armed robbery at Veirs Mill Dunkin' Donuts

Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in identifying and locating two suspects in the March 19 armed robbery of the Dunkin' Donuts store at 12200 Veirs Mill Road in Silver Spring. The suspects entered the store around 5:00 AM that morning (4:46 AM, according to the store's security camera). One appeared to be using an umbrella with a New Orleans Saints logo. As you can see in surveillance video released by police, one of the two suspects leapt over the counter toward an employee.
Suspect folding a New Orleans Saints umbrella
just before approaching the counter
A second suspect threatened the employee with a screwdriver while reaching over the counter, and removing cash from the register drawer. The two suspects then fled on foot.

Anyone with information about the suspects or this armed robbery is asked to contact the Montgomery County Department of Police – Major Crimes Division at 240-773-5100.  To be eligible for a reward, tipsters may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).  Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided to them that leads to the arrest and/or indictment of this suspect.  Tipsters will remain anonymous.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Masks mandatory on Ride On buses starting today

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has mandated that all Ride On bus passengers must wear masks or face coverings starting today. Riders not in compliance will be asked not to board, or to disembark if they remove their mask while aboard. A similar rule will take effect statewide on Saturday, April 18, 2020.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Armed robbery in Aspen Hill

An armed robbery in Aspen Hill was reported to Montgomery County police on Monday around 5:34 PM. The robbery was reported from a "school" in the 13300 block of Lydia Street, according to crime data. Harmony Hills Elementary School is at 13407 Lydia. Crime data also indicates the weapon used was a gun.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

DoubleTree Silver Spring suspends operations due to coronavirus pandemic

The DoubleTree by Hilton hotel at 8727 Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring has suspended operations due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some hotels have tried to stay open, relying on either essential business and government travelers, or on medical personnel receiving subsidized stays. But like many others, the DoubleTree has ultimately decided to temporarily close to protect their staff and guests.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Where is the coronavirus in Montgomery County? Here are confirmed cases by ZIP code

Here is a list of coronavirus cases confirmed by the Maryland Department of Health across Montgomery County, listed by ZIP code.

What this list tells us:

The list gives a rough snapshot of the number of patients who were sick enough to seek medical attention, and who were given a test for coronavirus that came back positive, in a particular ZIP code. Because of the 14-day incubation period for the Covid-19 coronavirus, we're likely looking at what the situation was about two weeks ago in each ZIP code.

What this list doesn't tell us:

These numbers obviously don't tell us how many infected people were asymptomatic, and/or did not qualify to be tested, in each ZIP code. They are also not necessarily an accurate estimate of the overall health or safety of a particular community.

For example, there are quite a few nursing homes and facilities for the elderly in eastern Montgomery County, in places like Wheaton and Fairland. Nursing homes have been the biggest hot spots for coronavirus across Maryland and many other states, so this makes the numbers look worse than they are for the general public in those areas. By contrast, there are no nursing homes in the 20816 ZIP code, which has one of the lowest non-rural confirmed case totals.

The public needs and deserves more information than Montgomery County and Maryland have provided so far, which may have caused the virus to spread since many were unable to know if they had been exposed and should isolate, thanks to a lack of contact tracing information being released publicly by the county and state (think about how many times you've heard a public announcement that someone with measles shopped in a particular store, or traveled through an airport on a particular date - that didn't happen here with coronavirus).

But the ZIP code information does represent some data and information we didn't have prior to this week. So let's make use of it.

ZIP CODE (Towns/Cities in that ZIP Code): Number of coronavirus cases

20818 (Cabin John): 0
20817 (Bethesda/North Bethesda/Potomac/Cabin John/Huntington Terrace): 50
20816 (Westbard/Sumner/Westmoreland Hills/Spring Hill/Brookmont/Somerset/Glen Echo): 20
20815 (Chevy Chase): 50
20814 (Downtown Bethesda): 53
20812 (Glen Echo/Brookmont): 0

20832 (Olney): 24
20833 (Brookville): 0
20838 (Barnesville): 0
20839 (Beallsville): 0

20841 (Boyds): 17
20842 (Dickerson): 0

20850 (Rockville/North Potomac/Travilah): 44
20851 (Rockville/North Bethesda): 17
20852 (North Bethesda/South Rockville): 66
20853 (Rockville/Aspen Hill/Norbeck/Olney): 54
20854 (Darnestown/Travilah/Potomac/Rockville): 68
20855 (Derwood/Redland): 18

20866 (Burtonsville/Fairland): 26

20871 (Clarksburg): 20
20872 (Damascus): 11
20874 (Germantown): 74
20876 (Germantown/Clarksburg/Wildcat Forest): 45
20877 (Gaithersburg/Montgomery Village/Redland/Washington Grove): 61
20878 (Gaithersburg/N. Potomac/Darnestown): 58
20879 (Gaithersburg/Montgomery Village/Germantown): 35

20882 (Montgomery Village/Damascus/Laytonsville): 18
20886 (Montgomery Village): 45
20889 (Bethesda): 0

20892 (Bethesda): 0
20895 (Kensington/Garrett Park/Chevy Chase View): 31
20899 (Gaithersburg): 0

20901 (Silver Spring/Kemp Mill/WhiteOak): 81
20902 (Wheaton/Kemp Mill/Glenmont/Glenview): 135
20903 (Parts of Silver Spring/White Oak/Hillandale): 56
20904 (White Oak/Fairland/Calverton): 137
20905 (Colesville/Ashton/Sandy Spring): 21
20906 (Aspen Hill/Leisure World/Layhill): 126
20910 (Silver Spring/Takoma Park/S. Kensington): 92
20912 (Takoma Park): 44

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Montgomery County updates coronavirus policy requiring masks to be worn in stores

Unmasked shoppers can be
barred from entering stores,
Stores now must provide masks
for employees

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles has released a further update and clarification to his order requiring shoppers to wear masks when shopping in County retail establishments starting tomorrow, Monday, April 13, 2020. Gayles clarified that there is no civil or criminal penalty for shoppers who do not wear a mask. But he also clarified that his order establishes the right of stores to bar customers who are not wearing masks or equivalent face coverings over their nose and mouth.

Businesses do face stiff fines for not complying with the business-related parts of Gayles' order, however. Gayles reiterated that businesses will face a $500 fine for their first violation, and $750 fines for each repeat offense.

One other important update to the policy: Where the original ordered that businesses must allow their employees to don masks, the update now mandates that businesses "must provide face coverings for employees, whether the employees interact with customers or not."

Friday, April 10, 2020

Montgomery County health officer orders face masks required in stores starting Monday for coronavirus

Once again a government official has had to step in to act during the coronavirus crisis while the Montgomery County Council dithered. Last evening, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued an order requiring customers to wear masks when inside grocery stores, pharmacies and "large chain retail establishments," effective Monday, April 13, 2020. The order also requires these stores to limit the number of customers allowed in at any one time, and to facilitate social distancing through the use of floor markings.

Giant had already announced it would begin limiting the number of customers in its stores prior to Gayles' order being issued.

Gayles also ordered the affected businesses to provide clean restrooms stocked with soap and hand sanitizer for their employees, and to allow them to wash their hands every 30 minutes. He did not mandate face coverings for employees, but ordered that employers allow them to be worn. Physical barriers between customers and employees should be erected, Gayles said, and widely-used equipment like shopping carts should be cleaned, and wipes provided for customers to use to clean them.

Face masks are expected to be largely improvised or homemade at this point, as even cloth masks are selling out online and in what few stores carried them. Surgical and N95 masks were sold out online and in stores four weeks ago, and Gayles discouraged their use by non-medical professionals.

However, cloth masks, bandannas, t-shirts and other improvised masks do not have the same filtration and moisture controls that professional-quality surgical masks provide. Only N95s provide maximum protection in direct contact with individuals infected with covid-19.

Federal officials have repeatedly lied about masks from the beginning of the crisis. First, they falsely claimed that surgical masks would not reduce your chances of catching the virus. Now they claim going into stores looking like a bank robber provides the same protection as a professional surgical mask, again for the sole reason of not wanting to force mask manufacturers to produce enough for the general public and medical professionals. The government has known since 2002 that a pandemic like this was coming, and yet failed to stockpile and domestically produce enough masks to protect its taxpayers despite nearly two decades to prepare.
Cloth masks are good if you fancy
yourself a train robber in the Old West.
Protecting you from covid-19...not so much
The County mask order, as a result, is simply an additional step that will reduce the spread of the virus, by reducing the airborne droplets generated by infected customers. Cloth masks will not hold in or keep out bacteria, viruses and contaminants to the degree that a surgical mask would. They are also heavier and more uncomfortable than lightweight surgical masks. And they become petri dishes themselves, as they have no moisture-retardant material like a medical grade mask.

"I fully support the County health order requiring people wear face coverings in grocery stores, pharmacies, and large chain retail establishments," County Executive Marc Elrich said after Gayles issued the order. But, in light of the limitations I referenced in the previous paragraph, Elrich urged residents to stay home as much as possible, and not forgo social distancing measures while wearing a mask.

This is yet the latest case of a government official having to take immediate action to protect the public while the County Council slept at the switch during the pandemic. Councilmembers spent so many days trying to get on television to promote themselves via their proposed mask bill that they had no time to actually pass the bill. Gayles finally stepped in to immediately issue the order. Last month, the Council and Montgomery County Public Schools leaders hemmed and hawed about whether or not to close schools, primarily for political and ideological reasons. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan then stepped in and ordered schools closed statewide.

Hogan, Elrich and Gayles have taken leadership roles during the crisis. The Council has "led from behind," struggling to stay relevant as other officials have effectively run the county for the last six weeks in their absence - an absence that began with a two-week Council vacation, just as the pandemic began in February.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Wheaton woman missing

Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in locating a missing Wheaton woman. Isaura Ovalle, 21, of the 10800 block of Georgia Avenue was reported missing by her family on an undisclosed date.

Ovalle is described by police as being 4’ 8” and weighing around 130 pounds.  She has brown eyes and black hair.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Isaura Ovalle is asked to call the Montgomery County Police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000 (available 24 hours).  Callers may remain anonymous.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Fairland man goes missing after hospital treatment

A Fairland man is missing, and Montgomery County police are seeking the public's help in locating him. Javian Richards, 22, of the 2300 block of Fairland Road was last seen leaving the Adventist Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville around 2:00 AM Tuesday morning.

Richards was wearing a hospital issued burgundy patient gown when he left the facility. He is described by police as being around 5’11” tall, and weighing about 150 pounds. Richards has brown eyes and short black hair.

Anyone with information regarding Javian Richards’ whereabouts is asked to call the Police Department at 301-279-8000 (24/7 phone line).

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Montgomery County Council proposes property tax hike

The Montgomery County Council is proposing to raise property taxes in the FY-2021 budget. No councilmember has announced this publicly, but the planned tax hike was revealed in a newspaper announcement the Council is required by law to publish before raising taxes.

A 4.5% property tax increase has been proposed. The Council recently criticized County Executive Marc Elrich for proposing a tax increase, but now are proposing one themselves. A public hearing on the tax increase has been scheduled for 1:30 PM on April 21, 2020.

Despite the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation's guidelines to allow residents to testify live by telephone, the Council is currently not allowing residents to do so, despite the Council having used videoconferencing to promote themselves this week. Residents may only send written or emailed comments on the tax increase, or recorded audio/video statements, and have been banned from entering the Council Office Building since the coronavirus outbreak began in the county.

No one can yet predict the full economic impact of the coronavirus shutdown, but it certainly will be significant. Raising everyone's tax bills is certainly a bold move amidst a worldwide pandemic and economic collapse.

The Council has raised property taxes every year this past decade except in 2014, when they gave a paltry $12 average tax cut during an election year. In 2016, the Council raised property taxes a whopping 9%, which translated to 10 or 11% for a large number of residents, due to rising assessments. But the tax hike failed to generate the expected revenue. In fact, revenue is now declining, after many wealthy residents fled to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region.

Earlier this year, the Council sought new taxing powers from the Maryland General Assembly. They hope to be able to raise income taxes beyond the current limit allowed, and to add additional property taxes based on what category of property you own.

Montgomery County Republican Party Chair Alexander A. Bush called the proposed tax increase "obscene," noting the flood of unemployment claims being filed by County residents, and the many coronavirus-related business closures. Bush strongly urged the Council to allow testimony by telephone at the public hearing.

Monday, April 6, 2020

First Forest Glen development project headed to Planning Board

The Montgomery County Council recently approved the update to the Forest Glen and Montgomery Hills sector plan. Now the first project sketch plan to be proposed under the new zoning is advancing to the County Planning Board, and will be reviewed at their April 9, 2020 meeting (meetings are now online-only due to the coronavirus pandemic). A 70' tall residential building is proposed for the combined properties of 9920 Georgia Avenue and 2106 Belvedere Boulevard.

A 72-unit garden apartment complex on the site will be torn down to make way for the new building. The new development will feature a total of 189 units as currently proposed: 78 1-bedrooms, 82 2-bedrooms, and 29 3-bedroom units. Twenty percent of the units will be affordable housing MPDUs. While that is higher than the required 12.5%, the project will actually create a net loss of affordable units in Forest Glen. 72 units are being torn down, and only 38 of the new units will be affordable, a net loss of 34 affordable housing units.

Architecturally, the building resembles the typical stack-and-pack, stick-built structures that have popped up in recent years along Key West Avenue and other blocks of Georgia Avenue. Planning staff is recommending approval of the sketch plan.

Images via Montgomery County Planning Department

Friday, April 3, 2020

More coronavirus cases in East Montgomery County nursing homes

Montgomery County has confirmed several more coronavirus cases in nursing homes in the East County. A staff member at Althea Woodland Nursing Home in the Montgomery Knolls area of Silver Spring has tested positive for Covid-19. So has a resident at Brook Grove in Sandy Spring, and a resident at Cadia Healthcare at 4011 Randolph Road in Wheaton.

The worst outbreak in the East County is at Layhill Center, located at 3227 Bel Pre Road near Aspen Hill, Aspenwood, and Leisure World. There, three residents and one staff member have been confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Two Purple Line detours along University Boulevard this month

Drivers traveling east or west along the University Boulevard East corridor will encounter two new detours in the coming days and weeks. The first is the closure of Edwards Place at University for utility relocations needed for the Purple Line light rail system. That closure will begin on or about April 13, 2020. See the above map for the official detour route.
A second detour will be further east in Adelphi at West Park Drive, beginning on or about April 17. That street will also be closed off at the end where it meets University. Take the above detour to reach your destination on that street. Both closures are expected to last for three months.

Montgomery County urgently seeking PPE donations for medical, public safety personnel

Montgomery County issued a statement early this morning asking for donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals and public safety employees. Items needed for the coronavirus crisis include
  • Respirators (N95 or KN95)
  • Masks (surgical or procedural)
  • Gowns (medical, isolation, or surgical)
  • Face Shields (medical goggles or safety glasses)
  • Gloves
County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Dr. Earl Stoddard said the County has already received much-appreciated donations from individuals, construction companies, laboratories and manufacturers, but that more are still needed. Anyone who is in a position to donate such equipment can fill out this form online.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Car stolen in Aspen Hill

A car was reported stolen in Aspen Hill early Monday morning. According to crime data, the vehicle was reported stolen to the Montgomery County police at 12:00 AM Monday from a home on Aspen Hill Court.

Montgomery County policy on coronavirus contact tracing: Do ask, don't tell

Most Montgomery County residents who live through the coronavirus pandemic will likely never forget the dramatic announcement of the jurisdiction's Patient Zero, Patient One and Patient Two - three travelers who brought the Covid-19 virus back to the county with them. The news meant the dreaded and deadly virus was now officially here. State and County officials said they would not reveal those patients' identities, and no one actually wanted or expected them to. But the public did want to know where those three people had gone while contagious, the general vicinity of MoCo in which they were located, and who had been exposed. Officials assured us that extensive interviews would take place to map out this information.

They never released it.

It's too late now. The three patients, thankfully, recovered. But aside from a single event at a Rockville retirement community, Montgomery County residents were never told which stores, restaurants, gyms, or other business and public facilities these people went to while contagious.

Whomever they exposed to the virus - and it's not credible to claim they contacted no human beings since returning from their travels - has either contracted it or fought it off, recovered or died. So it would be pointless to demand this information at this late date.

But the policy of "Do ask, don't tell" continues. Out of 388 known cases of coronavirus in Montgomery County, only a handful of exposure points have been made public, with the County liquor store on Hampden Lane in Bethesda being the only memorable one recently. The County has primarily announced when its own employees have tested positive, but it has not made public the public places those few dozen people went while contagious.

Is contact tracing being performed? If so, where are the results being recorded, and why have they not been released in a timely fashion while still relevant for each case? The local media hasn't pressed for these answers. While some countries have made the controversial move to track all citizens via their cell phones to provide the most-thorough contract tracing possible, and then alerted those exposed, here we are getting no answers from the honor-system interviews we were assured would take place when the first cases were confirmed on March 5(!!).

The failure to contact trace, or to make the results public (without identifying the patients, of course), has put all of us at risk. Along with the federal government's farcically-weak travel restrictions (a cruise ship loaded with infected Americans was allowed to dock, and the passengers disperse nationwide on commercial flights, only about 10 days ago - even after all federal officials knew at that point), the lack of information prevented potentially contaminated facilities from being cleaned according to coronavirus protocols, and those exposed from self-quarantining away from vulnerable family and community members.

Along with the deliberate failure at the federal, state and county levels to ensure sufficient hospital beds, masks, PPE, ventilators and other supplies would be available for a pandemic everyone has known was coming since SARS in 2002, a policy of "You can ask, but we won't tell you" has made the coronavirus outbreak even more dangerous for Montgomery County residents than it had to be.

Image courtesy CDC