News of the Weird

Week of January 16, 2005

LEAD STORY

Is It Safe Yet? The head of security at Boston's Logan Airport revealed in December that travelers continue to appear so unfamiliar with restrictions that, three years after 9-11, his screeners still seize 12,000 prohibited items per month. Nationwide, the total since 2002 is nearly 17 million, including 2,200 guns, 79,000 box cutters and 5 million knives. And in December, a Republican congressman blasted the Department of Homeland Security for making "a joke" out of President Bush's 2003 order to compile a comprehensive list of potential domestic terror targets. The list so far (of 80,000 sites) is termed by critics both too large (unlikely targets inexplicably included) and too small (imaginable targets inexplicably left off).

City Council Tedium

In December, a California appeals court ordered a re-hearing on a zoning case because the petitioner, who was denied an extension of business hours, had not had a fair chance to argue to the Los Angeles City Council. A videotape of the hearing showed that, during petitioner's presentation, council members talked on the phone or among themselves, wandered around the room, and read their mail, and the appeals court ruled that "due process" requires them to pay attention. And Councilman Dennis Pate of Eagle Lake, Fla., said in January that a formal rule was needed to prohibit spitting at meetings, in that a former city manager allegedly tried to unload on at him at a December session (but she denied it).

Scenes of the Surreal

(1) Following the Dec. 5 Newtown, England, charity Santa Claus race (in which 4,000 Saint Nicks in full costume competed), police had to use noxious spray and nightsticks to break up a brawl of about 30 Santas when the festive spirit got out of hand. (2) Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, England, told New Scientist magazine in December that they're studying why ostriches are able to run so fast (about 20 mph) even though they are heavy (over 200 pounds) and awkward-gaited. The team's work: They observe 15 ostriches running on treadmills.

Finer Points of the Law

In Durham, N.C., in December, gang member Robert D. Johnson was sentenced to 15 years in prison for shooting off the genitals of a fellow Blood who was trying to leave the group. The jury rejected an even harsher penalty, for "malicious castration," settling on "nonmalicious castration" because of evidence that Johnson actually shot the man in the leg but that the bullet just happened to exit his thigh and hit his penis.

The Litigious Society

-- Mr. Jerry Colaitis of Old Brookville, N.Y., died of complications from spinal surgery in 2001, and the next year, his family filed a $10 million lawsuit blaming everything on the Benihana Japanese restaurant chain. Benihana hibachi chefs engage in colorful hand acrobatics while skillfully slicing and grilling food at tableside, and on the night in question, Colaitis flinched at a shrimp the chef had tossed his way. The flinch jarred two vertebrae in his neck, which eventually required surgery and then a second surgery, after which complications developed, leading to Colaitis' death. In November 2004, a judge cleared the case for trial.

-- In February 2004, two 11-year-old boys cut classes at the Ronan Middle School in Ronan, Mont., found some alcoholic beverages, and hours later died of hypothermia in a snow-covered field. In November, the parents of the two filed a lawsuit, asking $4 million in damages from the local public schools for not preventing the truancy. School personnel should have known, according to the lawsuit, that the kids were of Native American heritage, with a high rate of alcoholism in the community, even though neither boy had any alcohol-related incident on his record.

-- Ladell Alexander, serving a 16-year sentence for molesting a child in a public library in South Bend, Ind., filed a lawsuit in 2004, asking for $4 million in damages, charging that his predicament is actually the fault of the library's security company because officers should have seen him with the boy in a staff-only area of the building and kicked him out before he could do anything bad. (A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in December.)

-- In February 2004, a 20-year-old woman stole OxyContin and Xanax from The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Wood River, Ill., and gave some to her boyfriend, Justin Stalcup, 21, who died of an overdose the next day. In December, Mr. Stalcup's family filed a lawsuit against The Medicine Shoppe, claiming that the reason for their son's death was that the pharmacy didn't safeguard the drugs from the thief.

The Entrepreneurial Society

Victoria Pettigrew started VIP Fibers three years ago in Morgan Hill, Calif., and according to a December 2004 report by the Knight Ridder News Service, has an enthusiastic clientele of pet owners who pay her to make specialty items (blankets, pillows, scarves) from their animals' hair ("Better yarn from your pet than a sheep you never met"). For example, client Bob Miller of Carmel, Calif., brought in enough collected sheddings of his golden retriever for a blanket, two couch pillows, a small teddy bear, a scarf and a picture frame. Pettigrew has also created items from the hair of cats, sheep, alpaca, bison, rabbits, hamsters, cows and horses.

Least Competent Criminals

Floyd Elliot, 22, was charged in December in Independence, Mo., with filing a false police report by claiming an assailant carved the vulgar slur "fag" on his forehead. Police were immediately suspicious because the letters were backward (as if made by someone looking in a mirror). Also in December, when Nicholas J. Valeri, 19, was arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a Wendy's restaurant in Hempfield Township, Pa., he claimed innocence, saying that he inadvertently acquired the bill shortly before, while selling $240 worth of marijuana.

Recurring Themes

Several times over the years in News of the Weird, bad things (including death) have happened to drivers who make the poor decision (usually while inebriated) to stop along the side of a highway at night to urinate but then fail to deal properly with the various dangers. Usually the dangers involve wandering out into traffic or falling over an embankment, but in November, Henry Turley, 77, started to exit his pickup truck to urinate near Kingsbury, Ind., and when rescue workers arrived 20 minutes later, Turley's truck was in a ditch, and Turley was lying on his back with his left foot caught between the wheel well and the left front tire and his right foot caught between the driver's side door and the front seat. (A nearly empty bottle of whiskey was on the passenger side.)

Awesome!

In December, a wheel from a tractor-trailer on Interstate 84 in Idaho (glowing hot from an overheated bearing) came off, rolled across a frontage road, and started several fires after it crashed into the home of Charisse Stevenson. According to a report in the Times-News (Twin Falls, Id.), Stevenson, seeing her 10-year-old son trapped by flames on the second floor of their home and separated by the red-hot wheel, moved it out of the way (though it weighs 250 pounds), scooped up her son (135 pounds), and carried him to safety. Afterward, of course, Stevenson was found to be unable to lift either the wheel or her son.

Unclear on the Concept

Dr. Mary Holley, an obstetrician who heads Mothers Against Methamphetamine in Albertville, Ala., offered this assessment of meth at a December task force meeting in Chattanooga, Tenn. (presumably intending to discourage use of the drug): "The effect of an (intravenous) hit of methamphetamine is the equivalent of 10 orgasms all on top of each other lasting for 30 minutes to an hour, with a feeling of arousal that lasts for another day and a half." (But after about six months' use, the effects turn negative, she said.)

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like News of the Weird