-- In September, Pinellas County, Fla., officials unveiled what they hope will be a cutting-edge traffic safety program as a model for reducing pedestrian deaths and calming drivers' road rage. The program asks pedestrians to extend their right hands (as if shaking hands) continuously through an intersection, while smiling, to get the attention of drivers. Said a worker in Clearwater, Fla., when the program was explained by a St. Petersburg Times reporter: "Nobody is going to walk across the street with their arm out. I'm not going to do it. Are you?"
In separate incidents in the same week in September, Debra Rodriguez, 41, of Ames, Iowa, and Kristin R. Smebak, 34, of Superior, Wis., both of whom had been drinking, forced their young kids to drive their cars home so the mothers would avoid DUI tickets if they were stopped. Rodriguez's inexperienced 11-year-old daughter caused a rollover, injuring both occupants, but Smebak's inexperienced 8-year-old son made it safely over the bridge connecting Duluth, Minn., to Superior before being spotted by a patrolman, who arrested Smebak.
-- According to police who arrested Fairfax (Va.) High School math teacher Fred Benevento, 47, in April during a drug sting, Benevento said the 13 plastic bags of crack cocaine in his car "came flying through his open window" and that he "was just looking at them when the police officers arrived."
-- Failed Murder Defenses: In May, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 5-to-4 to reject Brad Stone's "automaton" defense, that he was able to stab his wife 47 times only because he was in a robotic state brought on by the trauma of being called a bedroom failure. And in June, an Atlanta jury rejected Christopher Stobbart's claim of self-defense for shooting his boss in the head 14 times, then walking to another room, reloading and shooting him 10 more times.
-- Of Course! In July, just after the end of the war, Yugoslavia's ecology minister said the uncomfortably warm and rainy spring and summer weather was caused by NATO aggression. And in May, a mother in St. Cloud, Fla., told police that the reason she let her teen-age daughters smoke marijuana was so they wouldn't become alcoholics like their father. And Yuji Nishizawa, who hijacked the All Nippon Airways Boeing 747 in July and killed the pilot before being captured, told police his main motivation was to see how a real plane flew, after all the flight-simulation video games he had played.
-- West German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer, writing in the weekly Die Zeit in July, blamed East Germans' proclivities for post-war Nazism and thuggery (they are four times more likely to engage in those activities than West Germans) on too-rigorous potty training. After World War II, the East German government issued manuals on toilet-training for kindergartners, requiring virtually synchronized movements that stripped the kids of their individuality and reinforced government control.
-- Muriel Milne's trial began in Aberdeen, Scotland, in September against the Westhill Golf Club for maintaining a badly designed course, an opinion she came to in 1994 after a ball she hit struck a 2-inch-high rock and bounced back, hitting her in the eye and causing severe damage. (The trial is recessed until November.)
-- Escapee Jimmy Haakansson, in court in Stockholm, Sweden, on a theft charge and who broke a foot leaping through a courthouse window before being recaptured, filed a lawsuit against the police in September for failure to prevent his foolishness. One week earlier, in Roseville, Mich., Cassidy L. VanHorn filed a lawsuit against homeowner Diana Folbigg, whose house he had broken into in July 1997; according to the lawsuit, Folbigg lured VanHorn back to the house the next day, saying all was forgiven, but when he arrived, several of Folbigg's friends beat him up.
According to a Cox News Service report in August, citing official state records, 21 people were fatally run over last year in North Carolina while lying in the middle of the road. (Most incidents occurred around midnight, in the summer, to very intoxicated men.) A few days later, the British Health Education Authority announced that 43 people had been killed in 1998 frying up chips late at night. (The vast majority of victims were intoxicated.)
Police in Fall River, Mass., have been unable to find, since May, the dog owner who trained his pit bull to sharpen his teeth on trees and consequently killed more than 30 in a city park. And in July, an Irish wolfhound freed itself during a United Airlines flight into San Francisco and gnawed through landing-gear wires, but pilots landed the plane safely. And in July, after a Spanish Fort, Ala., police officer pepper-sprayed an alligator that was creating a public menace, the gator bit a $500 chunk out of the officer's cruiser.
Last year, News of the Weird named "Dr." John Ronald Brown "Chief Surgeon to the Weird" upon disclosure that after having had his license revoked for incompetence in 1977, he became the underground surgeon of choice for apotemnophiliacs (who get sexual gratification from having an arm or leg removed). However, one of his patients had died, and in October 1999, a San Diego jury found Brown guilty of second-degree murder. (That same week, Miami Beach's "Dr." Reinaldo Silvestre, who unlike Dr. Brown was never licensed, was arrested after botching several plastic surgeries, including one in which he used a spatula to cram breast implants into a former Mr. Universe runner-up who was expecting only pectoral implants.)
Insufficient Reasons to Kill Yourself: Husband changed the TV channel (woman in Colombo, Sir Lanka, took poison, May); minor car accident (19-year-old man immediately hanged himself from the tree he hit, Flint, Mich., April); police showed a court order to clean up a man's junky yard (man shot himself to death, Brickerville, Pa., March).
-- Quebec bureaucrats ordered an agricultural center to stop giving its cows "human female names" so as not to offend women. A lake-restoration project near Florida's Disney World caused several neighborhoods to be overrun by a half-million mice. Colin Linge, 54, retired after 29 years and 50,000 hours as a firefighter, having never fought a single fire (London, Ontario). Fourteen worshipers seeking eternal salvation were crushed to death when a crowd surged to touch a visiting evangelist (Abuja, Nigeria). A Washington Mutual bank informed a customer that, because of several mergers and relocations, it had lost his safe-deposit box containing $250,000 in family heirlooms. (Fountain Valley, Calif.).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679, or Weird@compuserve.com.)