The Year in Weird
A year’s worth of strange but true stories from the nation’s daily newspapers.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Let Freedom Reign
Optimists International announced the formation of a chapter in Baghdad, Iraq.
Fickle Fingers of Fate
The International Wheelchair Rugby Federation informed Mark Fosbrook, 28, who has no feet and only two fingers on each hand, that he wouldn’t be able to compete with the British wheelchair rugby team in Athens because he isn’t disabled enough.
Irony of the Year
AmeriDebt Inc., a Maryland company that counsels customers about managing their debt, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Thanks for the Mammaries
The Army confirmed performing more than 550 breast enlargements since 2000. Soldiers are also entitled to taxpayer-funded face-lifts, liposuction and nose jobs, an Army spokesperson said, explaining, “The surgeons have to have someone to practice on.”
Very Important People
While Oprah Winfrey was serving on the jury of a murder trial in Chicago, she acknowledged that whenever she used the bathroom attached to the jury room, she asked the other jurors to sing to drown out the noise she made.
Three of the five members of the National Transportation Safety Board complained about the board’s chair, Ellen Engleman Conners, because she kept calling board members to find out what they were wearing to meetings and discouraging them from wearing outfits that would clash with hers.
Judge R. Patrick Hayman of Ocean City, Md., declared that defendant Gregory D. Powell, 20, was “guilty as sin” of assaulting a police officer and disorderly conduct, but found him not guilty after Powell’s attorney reminded the judge that a conviction or probation could end his client’s college football career.
Hungarian researchers warned that men who carry a mobile phone in their hip pockets or a waist holster risk cutting their sperm count by as much as 30 percent, even when set on standby.
Laptop computers may cause young men to lose some ability to produce sperm when the machines are placed on their laps for longer than 15 minutes because they increase the temperature of the scrotum, according to researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton responded to a television news videotape showing Los Angeles police officers repeatedly hitting a car-theft suspect with a heavy flashlight by announcing that officers would begin carrying smaller flashlights.
It Takes All Kinds
Michael Robert Porter agreed not to own or possess firearms for five years after police in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, found him using a .22-caliber rifle to fire nails at his house to attach a screen to the window.
Police were called to a restaurant in Taylorsville, Utah, after manager Jack Johanson asked customers Isabelle Leota, 29, and Sui Amaama, 26, to leave because they made 12 trips to the buffet and were eating all the roast beef. The couple refused, telling police they were on the Atkins diet. Leota said that they started going to Chuck-A-Rama for the $8.99 buffet at least twice a week because they could “just eat meat.”
God Bless America—But Hurry
Town officials in East Nassau, New York, decided to forgo reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before board meetings because some of them thought the 31-word oath took too long. “We are not a bunch of godless communists,” Mayor Robert Henrickson said. “We just want to get some work done.”
Unreality Show of the Year
New Hampshire began charging visitors to the site of the Old Man of the Mountain—which collapsed in 2003—25 cents to look through a giant viewfinder at a close-up three-dimensional computer depiction of the Old Man where the actual Old Man used to be. Two viewers, costing $18,200, project an idealized image of the gone-but-not-forgotten granite formation, with a brilliant blue sky and a dusting of snow to accent the profile’s features.
Humanitarian of the Year
To discourage legal challenges that its way of executing prisoners was cruel and unusual, Nebraska switched from using four separate jolts of electricity to a single jolt 15 seconds long.
It Takes All Kinds, Pt. II
David Walker, 28, argued with a friend at a pub in South Yorkshire, England, then went home to get his sawed-off shotgun, which he jammed into his trousers. While he was walking back to the pub, the gun accidentally fired, shooting him in the testicles. After emergency surgery, Walker was sentenced to five years in jail for possessing an illegal firearm.
New Yorkers began paying $14 to take 20-minute naps in downtown Manhattan. MetroNaps, located on the 24th floor of New York’s Empire State Building, charges customers $14 for 20-minute naps in a quiet, darkened room filled with reclining chairs, called “napping pods,” while blankets cover their legs and music plays through headphones. The pods use vibration and light to awaken customers.
A police officer responding to a holdup in Cordoba, Argentina, spotted the two robbers fleeing on foot while holding hands. On apprehending them, he found that one of the suspects was blind.
Andy Tyler, 35, of Sussex, England, followed instructions off the Internet to build a jet engine and attached it to a shopping cart, reaching a top speed of 50 mph.
Fidel Cueva, 41, boarded a Greyhound bus, but when he found out it was an express that didn’t stop in Ventura, he removed an emergency window and jumped out, even though the bus was traveling 55 mph. Cueva hit the freeway, where several cars had to swerve to miss him, but suffered only cuts and bruises.
Police in Eugene, Ore., charged Angela S. Morris, 19, with pouring hot grease on her 31-year-old boyfriend’s face during an argument about a Bible verse.
Police in Kaiserslautern, Germany, reported that a man returned a computer he had just bought, insisting that when he got it home he found that it was packed with small potatoes instead of computer parts. The store replaced the computer free of charge but became suspicious when the man returned awhile later with another potato-filled computer casing, said he didn’t need a computer anymore and asked for his money back in cash.
How Government Works
The Agriculture Department classified frozen batter-coated french fries as a fresh vegetable.
The Labor Department launched a Web site to help homeless Americans find jobs. The announcement provided no estimate of the number of homeless who own computers or have access to the Internet.
Federal authorities in Newark, New Jersey, said that a security device purporting to protect people against chemical and biological attacks in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks turned out to be just a filing cabinet painted yellow with a siren and flashing red light attached.
Bomb squad members called to a Home Depot store in Racine, Wis., because of a suspicious object detonated what turned out to be a typewriter.
A consortium of consumer electronics firms, cellular phone networks and broadcasters said it is funding the development of wireless phones with software agents designed to spend subscribers’ money. “They start off monitoring what you do and gradually look for ways to increase their role,” British software engineer Nick Jennings explained. “Over time, they get to know your preferences.” At that point, Jennings said, the software agents will decide for themselves what they think subscribers need and make the purchases without bothering them.
The German eyeglass maker IC! Berlin introduced frames that double as chopsticks. Company director Ralph Anderl explained that the $330 frames are especially popular with sushi customers in a hurry.
When German motorists are stuck in traffic, one-third of them fantasize about sex, according to a motor club survey. Only 10 percent said they think of finding an alternate route home.
Finland’s armed forces admitted dismissing a growing number of draftees whose Internet addiction makes them unfit for service. Jyrki Kivelae, of the Finnish defense staff, explained that the conscripts are unable to adjust to getting up at six every morning, hard physical training, and sharing living and sleeping quarters with 10 others.
Concerned that the continuing stream of immigrants from former African and Asian colonies would swell the ethnic population of the Netherlands beyond the current 17 percent, the Dutch government reversed its once-liberal immigration policy and offered refugee families $7,200 to leave the country.
Singapore introduced a new bottled water made from filtered toilet flushings.
Mensa Rejects of the Year
A 23-year-old man in Heartland, Maine, nailed himself to a cross trying to kill himself, according to the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department. Lt. Pierre Boucher said the man used a hammer to nail one of his hands to the cross, but “when he realized that he was unable to nail his other hand to the board, he called 9-1-1.” Boucher said it wasn’t clear whether the man wanted help for his injury or with nailing down the other hand.
Intending to entertain his friends, Australian handyman Brad Shorten, 33, picked up a nail gun that he thought was empty, pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger. He wound up with a 1.25-inch nail countersunk through his skull just behind his temple. A four-hour operation was needed to remove the nail.
Nevada activists trying to get a pro-marijuana initiative on a statewide ballot failed to gain support in Clark County, even though they collected 6,000 signatures favoring the measure, because they forgot to file the petition by the required deadline.
During an International Boxing Federation superfeatherweight bout in Temecula, Calif., Nate “Galaxy Warrior” Campbell had clearly hurt his opponent, Robbie “Bomber” Peden. Instead of finishing off Peden, Campbell dropped his hands and stuck out his chin, daring Peden to hit him. Dazed but conscious, Peden promptly delivered a left hook, knocking Campbell out and moving into the IBF ranking’s top spot.
Police in Suffolk County, New York, reported that Thomas Woods, 59, set a rug on fire and challenged his roommate to see who could stay in the house longer. As the house burned, the roommate, Rod Bennett, managed to escape, but Woods was trapped in the burning house.
Police investigating a bank robbery in Huntington Beach, Calif., arrested Ronald Langdale, 58, after they spotted him in a bar across the parking lot next to the bank drinking a beer. Lt. Mike Reynolds said that officers noticed Langdale because he was wearing the same clothes witnesses described and counting “a wad of money.”
After Dorl Gates, 52, a contestant in the World Belly Flop Contest in Beloit, Wis., jumped into the Rock River from a bridge about 20 feet above the cold water, he surfaced briefly a few times but was washed downstream by the river’s current. After rescuers failed to find the body, a friend, Edward Quaerna, said he didn’t understand why his friend jumped from the bridge because “he doesn’t know how to swim.”
When police in Plainville, Conn., received an emergency call reporting a burglary in progress, officers found Jack Peterson, 24, trying to rob a convenience store. Investigators said that Peterson had made the emergency call himself, intending to divert attention from the scene of his crime by giving a different address, but he mistakenly gave the address of the store he was robbing.
Japanese police reported that more than 400 counterfeit 1,000-yen banknotes turned up in vending machines in Saitoma Prefecture. The notes, each worth the equivalent of $9.10, are easily identified as bogus by the human eye, but they fool older vending machines. Investigators were puzzled by the counterfeiter’s motive, however, because each note costs slightly more than 1,000 yen to produce.
Enjoying a commanding lead in the Olympic 50-meter three-position rifle final, American Matt Emmons, 23, needed to score only 8.0 (anywhere near the bulls-eye) to win the gold medal, Emmons shot an 8.1, but it didn’t count because he fired at the wrong target. He finished eighth.
Stephen C. Jackson, 35, robbed a bank in Lakewood, Ohio, but after the bank’s dye pack exploded, covering the cash in red ink, police found Jackson at a car wash feeding stained $1s, $5s and $10s into a bill changer for quarters. Jackson fled but left a trail of quarters, which officers followed. They caught Jackson with 906 quarters in his left pocket, 924 quarters in the right and $2,185 in tainted bills.
When the manager of a trailer park in Barry County, Mich., told a 21-year-old woman to stay out of the mobile home she had just moved into because a stove he installed wasn’t hooked up properly and was leaking gas, she started to leave, but not before lighting a cigarette. The trailer blew up, badly burning the woman, her year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
Police in Pine Bluff, Ark., reported that Leroy Brown, 19, believed his wife was having an affair and decided to punish her by burning the pants he thought she wore while she was with her lover. When the burning pants singed Brown’s fingers, he dropped them, setting fire to the couple’s mobile home.
Three hours after Harold Whitton was robbed of money and his car at a coin laundry in Nashville, Tenn., police spotted a 34-year-old man fitting the robber’s description at a nearby “Night Out Against Crime” block party waiting in line for free food.
Authorities in Nevada County, Calif., reported that an employee at a furniture-manufacturing company held a lighter to his pants, which were saturated with a highly flammable solvent, to see if they would ignite. They did. He suffered minor burns to his legs.
Joyce Stewart, 59, of Martinsburg, W.Va., called paramedics after she used 3M’s liquid bandage to treat a crack on her heel and glued her foot to the kitchen floor. Noting that the package says the product runs easily and sets quickly, Stewart pointed out that there’s no warning against gluing body parts. “They should have that on there,” she declared.
Way to Go
Heart patient Jerry Leonard, 63, was being evacuated by helicopter when it crashed about 20 miles outside Evansville, Ind. He died, not from his heart attack, but because the crash caused his stretcher’s chest strap to wrap around his neck and suffocate him.
Todd Birch, 24, of Indianapolis died after handing his car keys to his girlfriend, Liza Besser, 22, because he felt too drunk to drive. She accidentally ran over him when he wandered off the sidewalk into her path.
Stanley Mordarsky, 55, fell to his death from a roller coaster at Six Flags New England because his pot belly kept the ride’s lap bar from engaging properly to restrain him. Mordarsky was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed about 230 pounds.