In November, just three days after a published report that lawyers were about to collect $350 million on the settlement for the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 explosion (with another $480 million to come, under certain conditions), two Massachusetts law firms sued the state over the 1998 tobacco settlement, claiming that the $775 million in fees they were awarded by an arbitration panel was not enough. The firms say they are due $1.3 billion more under their original contract, although other law firms in the 46-state settlement so far have accepted the arbitrators' awards. A Massachusetts official said a $775 million fee works out to about $6,300 per lawyer-hour and a $2.075 billion fee to about $17,000 per lawyer-hour.
According to a September safety hearing, British brain surgeon Donald Campbell, 54, crashed his twin-engine plane into a house (he survived, with head injuries) when he ran out of fuel because he miscalculated when converting "gallons" to "liters" (Shoreham, England). And internationally renowned neuroscientist Patricia Goldman-Rakic, 66, was fatally run over in August while jaywalking (and police said the driver was not at fault) (Hamden, Conn.).
In July, a judge relented and allowed Richard Quinton Gunn to act as his own attorney in his aggravated-murder appeal, following his conviction earlier in the year in Ogden, Utah, by a jury that deliberated just two hours. Gunn had confessed, saying he killed his tenant using a crowbar, a butcher knife, a handsaw, a fireplace poker, a 12-inch bolt, a straight-edge razor, an ax, walking canes, a pool cue and a large salad fork.
-- In October, U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger, 76, R-N.C., told the Charlotte Observer that a large part of the stress that ended his 50-year marriage was the entry into the couple's Washington, D.C., neighborhood of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to a building just across the street from the couple's townhouse, which is three blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Ballenger called CAIR a fund-raising arm of the terrorist group Hezbollah and said he and his wife were terrified at seeing women "wearing hoods" (perhaps meaning headscarves), moving boxes into the building: "(T)hey could blow (the Capitol) up."
-- Ten days after Jonathon Russell killed three people and himself in a highly publicized workplace-rage incident in Jefferson City, Mo., in July, his mother, Nina Tichelkamp-Russell, filed a worker compensation claim on his behalf, seeking death benefits. Her version of the cause of death, according to what she wrote on the claim, was "by gunfire while on the company clock." (The employer and its insurance company rejected the claim.)
-- Demon Babies: LaFayre Marie Banks, 32, was charged with assault and child abuse in Port Huron, Mich., in May after her 7-month-old baby fell from Banks' second-story bathroom window, suffering severe head injuries. Banks told a police officer that she was bathing the child when "it reared up and went through the window." And in Wetumpka, Ala., in August, Melissa Wright, 27, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for putting her 18-month-old daughter in a hot oven. Wright's version was that the child slipped from her arms, fell to the floor, and rolled into the oven, and then the door closed.
-- Denver Garrett, charged with cocaine possession in Monterey, Tenn., in October, told police he bought it only to keep it off the streets and away from children. And James Howle, 61, and Kevin Williams, 41, stabbed each other in Pomona, Calif., in October in an argument over which of their two unidentified alcoholic beverages tastes better.
Loren J. Adams, 40, was convicted in Indianapolis of distributing obscenity in May, based on a business venture that apparently emanated from his admitted interest in watching scenes of bestiality. Not only did Adams' Web site offer videos of people having sex with horses, snakes, etc., but Adams at one time offered to rent out his 3-year-old Great Dane, Tyson, for others' sex videos. (Tyson was removed from the home, and Adams still faces a civil charge of animal cruelty, according to a September report in the Indianapolis Star).
-- Medicare, facing a precarious financial future, decided for the first time this year that seniors who need motorized wheelchairs (typical price, $5,500) will have to get an in-person doctor's prescription. Medicare paid $289 million for motorized wheelchairs in 1999, but this year, before the rule change, the estimated expense was $1.2 billion. Medicare also revealed that it is spending $600,000 this year to put its 800-telephone number on a blimp that flies over sporting events.
-- The New York Times reported in October that Nabors Industries (operator of oil-well drilling rigs), which in 2001 moved its legal headquarters from the U.S. to Barbados (corporate income tax: 1 percent) and its tax headquarters to a mail drop in Bermuda (no corporate income tax), is now insisting that it receive favored U.S. legal status. Nabors wants to be treated as an American-owned company to get a competitive advantage under the 80-year-old Jones Act that bars non-U.S. companies from working on ships involved in domestic trade.
A 29-year-old, 300-pound man was discovered dead (asphyxiation), stuck in a small bathroom window of his home after apparently trying to climb in late at night when he realized he had forgotten his house key (Paterson, N.J., September). And a 36-year-old, 250-pound man (suspected of being a burglar) was discovered dead (asphyxiation), stuck in a small kitchen window, discovered by a woman who had just gotten up to fix breakfast (Elgin, Ill., October).
Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (67) The usually elderly, momentarily confused driver who intends to stop but mistakenly slams on the gas pedal, often resulting in major destruction, such as the 82-year-old Rochester, N.Y., woman who plowed into nine new cars at a Hyundai dealership in September. (68) And the marijuana entrepreneur, with plants and grow equipment throughout his house, who nonetheless calls police in to report a relatively minor crime against him, such as the Victoria, British Columbia, man who in August insisted police come see the video he made of a break-in of his car but was oblivious of his home's powerful marijuana smell.
On Oct. 29, thousands of rush-hour riders had to be rerouted on New York City commuter trains as firefighters tried to free Edwin Gallart, 41, whose arm got stuck in one train's toilet when he reached in to retrieve his fallen cell phone. (Ultimately, the toilet had to be ripped out.) And the next day in South Philadelphia, a 25-year-old man who had apparently been indecently exposing himself to girls and women in the neighborhood for several weeks, tried it one time too many and was chased by "20 to 30" girls from St. Maria Goretti High School, caught, roughed up, and held for police.
Catholic priest Antonio Caetano apologized for hitting a parishioner on the head when she would not leave after her daughter was denied a place in Sunday school because she registered too late (Souto Redondo, Portugal). The city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, installed 10 surveillance cameras to help combat pilferage at a municipal dump. Vegetable grower A. Duda & Sons introduced a product 15 years in the making, to delight Bloody Mary fans: celery stalks that are hollow in the center (Oviedo, Fla.).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)