-- The Times of London reported in December that Cheltenham, England, shopkeeper Samantha Munns punctured her thigh two weeks earlier when she fell on the nozzle of a balloon-inflating canister and that within seconds, enough helium gas (inert, nonpoisonous) had entered the subcutaneous tissue in her leg and abdomen to cause them to swell painfully to twice their normal size. Munns was treated at Cheltenham General Hospital by physician Alison Moon, who said she could find only one similar case in medical textbooks and prescribed rest in order to let the gas dissipate.
Robert Fyfe, 44, fell into a silt and mud pit at a gravel company and could not free himself for 60 hours (Olean, N.Y., July). Magazine editor Nicholas White slipped out for a Friday night smoke break but was stuck 40 hours in an elevator before a guard noticed (New York City, October). Jim Kahlke, 36, was locked in an ATM vestibule on Thanksgiving evening, until a bank employee arrived for work the next morning (Raritan Township, N.J.). A 13-year-old car-theft suspect was left alone all weekend in a courthouse holding cell when a bailiff forgot about him (Indianapolis, November).
-- Pumpkin farmer Hugh Mommsen of Rice Lake, Wis., told a reporter on the Halloween beat that he was ready to step up from his pumpkin catapult (the medieval "trebuchet" device), which can achieve massive splatter by sending a 30-pound pumpkin 150 feet up and 400 feet out, to the even more powerfully splattering pumpkin cannon. Mommsen noted, however, that the awesomeness of the splat depends not only on the force of impact but also on the variety of pumpkin.
-- On July 17, Michael Adams, 13, got his arm caught in an irrigation machine while working alone on his family's alfalfa farm near Crane, Ore., and watched as the arm was severed just above the elbow. He picked up the arm, walked 100 yards to a vehicle, and drove for help. Unable to steer well, he crashed, but walked to another vehicle, which he drove to a friend's home, and still comforted his distraught parents when they arrived. The arm was reattached, and Michael is doing fine.
-- Inmate Timothy Marshall, 39, petitioned a Florida Court of Appeal judge recently to release him early in 2000, as per the terms of his 1985 15-year cocaine-trafficking sentence. The only problem, said the judge, was that Marshall had escaped in 1987 and was recaptured only two years ago and now accuses the state of "wrongfully refusing to give him credit" for time served while on the run. (Petition denied.)
-- In September, Alexander J. Blastos, 34, was arrested in Florida and charged with writing a bad check for $9,600 to cover the cost of a private jet flight back to Keene, N.H., to his court date on federal wire-fraud charges. (However, when New Orleans check-forgery defendant Keefe Anderson, 34, tried to post bail in October with a forged check, it worked; Judge Charles Elloie fell for it and also accepted without investigation Anderson's bail petition with bogus addresses. Anderson, who police said is also a suspect in a murder investigation, immediately skipped town.)
-- Russia's venerable National Philharmonic Orchestra, touring Great Britain in November with almost no financial support from the homeland, was forced to play for spare change outside a McDonald's restaurant in Swansea, Wales, taking in about $32.
-- Authorities in Tokyo began investigating the giant finance company Nichiei in November after two debtors reported being pressured by Nichiei loan managers to sell their kidneys and other body parts to meet payment schedules. According to a separate lawsuit, another Nichiei employee demanded a debtor sell his daughter into prostitution. Nichiei is the country's leading lender to small businesses.
-- Twenty-eight of Warsaw (Poland)'s 42 prime-location public restrooms were leased in early 1999 to private companies on the condition that they renovate and maintain the toilets. The result, according to an August Associated Press dispatch, has been a variety of small shops operating out of the facilities (e.g., taverns, a veterinary clinic, and even the Lunch Time restaurant featuring a salad bar).
A vigorously protesting Enrique Salinas, 37, was arrested in Detroit in September on a New Mexico shoplifting warrant, held there 38 days, then returned to a Santa Fe jail; authorities have now decided they had the wrong Enrique Salinas, although the one they had was born on the same day in 1962 as the one they wanted and had a similar facial scar. And Los Angeles County agreed in December to pay Ray Nugent $150,000 for wrongly jailing him in 1988 (and again on the same warrant in 1993) on armed robbery charges; authorities have since concluded that the robbery was committed by Ray's evil twin brother, Jay Nugent, who is believed to be hiding in Canada.
Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (39) Amateur videographers who ingeniously hide cameras to capture their subjects nude and/or intimate, such as the Skokie, Ill., landlord in July and whoever installed the two video cameras in a men's shower room at Yosemite National Park in July. And (40) (alas, sadly, for it has been a News of the Weird staple) animal hoarders, usually women with dozens or hundreds of cats who stun the neighbors with the smell and health inspectors with the massive feces buildup, such as the three women in separate instances this year in Edmonton, Alberta, another in Pittsburgh in December (feces stored in animal carriers), and another in St. Anthony, Minn., in August (270 rabbits and "knee deep" feces).
Shoplifters Malcolm Sloan, 27 ($68 designer shirt), and Ryan M. Keyes, 18 (loot unreported), had dashed out of stores in, respectively, Warwick, R.I., in September, and Pittsburgh in June, and led police in foot chases. The Sloan chase ended when he drowned in the Allegheny River; the Keyes chase ended when he was fatally hit by a truck crossing a street.
A practice bomb accidentally fell off an F-16 flying over a golf course, making divots over a 300-yard swath (Phoenix). A depressed 16-year-old boy who said he didn't want to talk to anyone showed up at school with his lips stitched together (Twentynine Palms, Calif.). A 48-year-old ex-cop who played "Officer Friendly" teaching kids to avoid strangers was convicted of indecent exposure in a shopping mall (St. Paul, Minn.). Two inmates who escaped from a prison in Tanzania soon gave up after being forced up a tree by lions. The $30,000 Presidents Pace horse race in Edmonton, Alberta, was won by the favorite, Clintons (sic) Cigar.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679, or Weird@compuserve.com.)