News of the Weird

Week of September 24, 2000


-- Campaign 2000: In September, Robert Salzberg finished a strong second (26 percent) in the Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat from Sarasota, Fla., despite revealing that he would soon plead insanity (that a robot was attacking him) to a charge that he beat up a police lieutenant inside a station house in March. In Maryland, the estranged wife of U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn (husband and wife are black) is contributing a political telephone ad for his opponent, charging that Wynn "does not respect black women (because) he left me for a white woman." And Lanett, Ala., city councilman Barry Waites was defeated in August, largely through the effort of candidate Rod Spraggins, who finished fourth but whose only issue was to accuse Waites of murdering his own wife two years earlier (but Waites was never charged).

-- Among recent news reports of stupefyingly high real estate prices in the San Francisco area: a plain three-bedroom house in a nice Palo Alto neighborhood, offered for $3.5 million (renting for $12,000 a month), and a 1,000-square-foot house in San Francisco that "needs everything done to it," according to an agent, offered at $279,000 but which will sell for much more because as of the first of September, 48 people had bid on it.

Rights in Conflict

Newsstand clerk Mike Redina, 44, who is blind, was fired in July because an underage boy illegally bought cigarettes from him (Hauppauge, N.Y.). Chevron lost an employment discrimination case in May because its doctor recommended rejecting an application from a man with a liver disorder because the work site was a highly toxic part of a refinery, and the company would almost certainly have been liable if the man had gotten sicker (El Segundo, Calif.). Parents Michael and Jill Carroll were forced by a court to give their son, 7, his prescribed Ritalin to regulate his school behavior despite the boy's loss of sleep and appetite (Albany, N.Y.).

Grown-ups Setting Examples

-- Never Laid a Hand on Him: Otto Benjamin II, 39, was arrested in May in Fayetteville, Ark., and charged with second-degree battery after police found that he had been disciplining his 15-year-old son by biting him, including several recent incidents that had left permanent scars (on the ear, upper nose area, lip, finger, left thigh, shoulder and right forearm).

-- Teachers as Role Models: Columbia University literature professor Edward Said, 65, visiting Lebanon on July 3, was photographed throwing stones at Israeli soldiers at the border. (He later explained, "The spirit of the place infected everyone with the same impulse, to make a symbolic gesture of joy that the occupation had ended.") And two weeks later, New York City high school teacher Ryan Ward, 30, was charged with grand larceny after he allegedly rode his bike past a woman on East 26th Street in Manhattan and swiped her purse.

-- Des Moines, Iowa, anesthesiologist Eric Meek filed a lawsuit in July against surgeon Scott Neff over a February incident that Meek felt took their ongoing professional feud too far. Meek said that when he walked into the operating room to work with Neff on a routine hip replacement at Mercy Medical Center, Neff grabbed the hose attached to a fluid-draining machine and banished Meek from the room by spraying him with a "blood-laden" liquid.


-- Jeff Schmidt was fired in May after 19 years as a staff writer for the magazine Physics Today just after the publication of his book "Disciplined Minds," which argues that a hierarchical organization's structure almost guarantees that its workers cannot devote their full energy to the job. He was canned after a supervisor came across a publicity interview by Schmidt, admitting playfully that he had sometimes worked on the book during office hours at Physics Today.

-- In July, Genevieve Simenon, a great niece of the late French mystery writer Georges Simenon, confessed to killing her husband and expressed dismay that, but for one detail, she would have gotten away with it, just as the perpetrators in Georges Simenon's stories believe they will. Genevieve had injected her husband with Valium, then beat him to death, scrubbed the crime scene, and convinced the family physician that her husband had merely suffered a heart attack and that the bruises on his face came when he hit his head on a table. However, the funeral director looked under the husband's long hair and noticed that his ear had been beaten off in the attack.

-- Additional Recent Ironies: An arsonist burned down the Heart of Fire Church (Fern Creek, Ky., June). The founder of an alcoholics' self-help group that advocated allowing recovery through moderate drinking pled guilty to DUI that caused the deaths of two people (Ellensburg, Wash., June). A very abled executive with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind was fined $100 for issuing himself a handicapped parking card (Boston, August).

The Unhygienic Lawyer

In July, the Law Society of Alberta, Canada, announced it had begun an inquiry into whether lawyer John M. Grindley should lose his license to practice because he had harmed the reputation of the profession. Grindley had been convicted in June of drunk driving, but the Law Society filed charges against him only later, after a residential eviction order had been upheld against him based on an inspector's having declared Grindley's home so grungy and putrid-smelling that it was a hazard to public health. Grindley admitted that his apartment is "messy" but said he would fight the charge.

Recurring Themes

One of the most widely circulated offbeat stories of 1999 was the Michigan conviction of canoeist Timothy Boomer under a seldom-used state law banning public cussing. (He used the F word at least 25 times, in an area occupied by recreational boaters, including many kids.) In May 2000, Sioux Falls (S.D.) high school senior Oakly Haines, who had just won the gold medal in the 400-meter dash at the state track tournament, was disqualified when two volunteer officials overheard him cuss at himself ("damn it" and "son of a bitch") that he had failed to beat the record time of his older brother. Said one of the tattling officials, "When you have children, you want them to be exposed (only) to wonderful, good things."

Thinning the Herd

In June, a 16-year-old boy accidentally fatally shot himself in the head while fleeing a sheriff's deputy who had tried to question him; according to the deputy, the boy had clumsily attempted to shoot back by firing over his shoulder on the run. And in August, during a workplace scuffle in Irvine, Calif., one man grabbed another in a headlock, pulled his gun, and shot him in the face, but the bullet passed through the target's cheek and into the shooter's own chest, killing him.

Also, in the Last Month ...

Federal prison officials, angered at a recent bribery convict's boast that he planned a lot of golf at a minimum-security facility, shipped him instead to the same New York lockup as John Gotti's son (Lake Placid, N.Y.). A veteran skydiver got his foot caught outside the airplane door two miles up and dangled for 30 minutes, and was still hanging during the landing, but was not seriously hurt (Pittsburgh). An ex-Marine gunrunner and minor figure in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra affair was arrested for masturbating in a Kmart parking lot (Brookfield, Wis.). A 36-year-old driver was shot in the abdomen during a one-vehicle collision when a handgun in the glove compartment fired as it was jarred by the impact (Eastford, Conn.).

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or, or go to

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