Internet maps show sex-offender homes

STATE DIGEST

August 18, 2006

As part of a yearlong effort to crack down on sex offenders, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. unveiled a new system yesterday that allows Marylanders to produce maps on the Internet showing where registered offenders live.

The system, available at www.socem.info, allows users to type in their addresses and search for any nearby offenders. The system generates a map, which shows the registered addresses of any offenders nearby.

"Information is powerful here," Ehrlich said. "Information will protect our kids."

Ehrlich made the announcement during a trip to Ocean City for the Maryland Association of Counties conference, where he had launched a drive for increased sex-offender registration compliance a year ago. Since then, he said, 511 additional sex offenders have complied with registration laws statewide.

Andrew A. Green

Cecil County: Elkton

Man indicted on pornography

A federal grand jury indicted an Elkton man yesterday on charges of possessing child pornography and traveling across state lines to engage in sex with a minor.

The three-count indictment charges Ernie Hancock, 48, with downloading pornographic images to his computer and traveling from Maryland to Delaware for sex with an underage girl between January 2003 and March 2005.

He was initially arrested on state charges in March last year, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore. She said a subsequent federal investigation led to the indictment.

An initial court appearance for Hancock, who remains in custody, has not been scheduled, authorities said.

Matthew Dolan

Maryland: Absentee voting

Erroneous ballots are produced

State elections officials generated about 240 erroneous absentee ballots destined for three counties this week because of a computer glitch that officials say they have caught and plan to remedy today.

The glitch forced elections officials to suspend the distribution of all absentee ballots statewide Wednesday until voter registration director Mary Wagner was able to determine which voters were affected. Three erroneous absentee ballots were generated in Frederick County, 15 in Howard and 225 in Charles, Wagner said.

Wagner said that errors in the 15 from Howard County were caught before they were mailed, but she was not sure late yesterday whether bad ballots in Frederick and Charles had been shipped.

Maryland's primary election is Sept. 12. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is Tuesday.

Melissa Harris

Bay Bridge

Tolls free for 3 hours Sept. 1

Tolls on the Bay Bridge will be free on the Friday morning of Labor Day weekend, thanks to a promotion by Ocean City's municipal government, state and local officials announced yesterday.

Ocean City will be sponsoring the tolls for those crossing the bridge from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 1. Dennis Castleman, head of the state's tourism office, said the promotion coordinates with the state's "Go Early, Stay Late" campaign, an effort to reduce traffic congestion on the route to and from the Eastern Shore's beaches.

Bridge traffic is typically highest in the early afternoon that Friday, and Castleman said the free tolls should help ease the crunch.

"We're trying to drive some of these people earlier so we can keep it going smoothly all day long," he said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration has tried to persuade corporations to sponsor free tolls on the bridge with little success. The state lottery has sponsored tolls on some summer weekends, but this promotion is the first by a nonstate agency, Castleman said.

Andrew A. Green

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