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Newsmonsters: Even before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 had been a banner year for news.

True Stories

A roundup of the world's strangest news in 2001

By Roland Sweet

IN SPITE OF THE RECENT war coverage, the nation's press devoted significant column inches this year to the truly weird and the just plain wacky. From the pages of America's newspapers, large and small, here are the Top 5 stupid crook tricks and the best of the rest of the odd news for 2001.

Curses, Foiled Again

  • Police in Fort Worth, Texas, charged Lakount Maddox, 17, with trying to rob a Taco Bell after he pulled up to the drive-through window on a bicycle, brandished what turned out to be a toy gun and demanded money. He also ordered a chalupa. Police responding to a 911 call found Maddox holding the money while sitting on his bike at the drive-through, still waiting for his chalupa.

  • Police in Ogden, Utah, reported that a man in his forties tried to rob a group of people by pointing a handgun at himself and threatening to shoot unless they turned over their vehicles. Not surprisingly, nobody complied.

  • Police in Brockton, Mass., charged James M. Jorritsma, 38, with holding up a coffee shop, then fleeing with the cash register. Two customers who gave chase quickly caught him because he was slowed by the weight of the register and the cast he was wearing from a broken leg.

  • Edwin V. Gaynor, 21, tried to join the Baltimore police department, but when the application asked if he had ever committed a crime, he checked the box marked yes. He explained he had car-jacked a woman and robbed five people in Texas. "I've never seen anything like this," police Maj. George Klein said. "I guess something just spooked him, and he wanted to clear his conscience."

  • Police in Ruscombmanor Township, Pa., charged Christian A. McDade, 25, with robbing the same convenience store six times in five months. Identification was simplified when a surveillance camera photographed him wearing a clear plastic bag over his face.

    News from the Front

  • When the Defense Department became concerned that some Afghan people might mistake yellow unexploded cluster bombs for the yellow humanitarian aid packages that it was also dropping on the country, it decided to switch the food packs to light blue. That wouldn't work, analysts concluded, because it's the same color as the United Nations and Israeli flags. Every color that was proposed seemed to trigger some cultural objection.

  • The problem was rendered academic on Nov. 20 when unemployed engineer Golam Sediq reported that a crate full of U.S. food aid fell through the roof of his mud-brick home in Herat near the border with Iran. Three other houses also displayed large holes in their roofs, broken windows and shattered furniture, while yellow food packages, packets of peanut butter and Pop-Tarts littered the ground. "We'll have to pay at least 20 times more to repair the damage than we gain from the extra food," Sediq complained.

    Mensa Rejects of the Year (Tie)

  • Bryan Allison, 24, suffered possible multiple fractures when he fell to the ground while throwing a 25-inch television set off the second-floor porch of his home in Niagara Falls, N.Y., after watching a videotape of a 1989 hockey playoff game. He and his brother decided to toss the TV when they became upset over the outcome.

  • John and Ruby Barnes suffered severe burns while heating aerosol paint cans in the oven of their Huntsville, Ala., home. The couple explained they were heating the metal cans "to make the paint come out easier."

    The Honeymoon Is Over

    John Turner was granted a divorce in Middlesborough, England, after complaining that he had finally had enough of his wife Pauline rearranging the furniture every single day of the 38 years they were married.

    Fruits of Research

  • Researchers at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center reported that nicotine patches and gum aimed at helping people quit smoking may cause cancer.

  • Romanian inventor Vasile Prisca, 47, developed a mobile phone to help married men trap unfaithful wives by sending a text message when anyone heavier than the wife gets into bed. Prisca added he knows it works from first-hand experience. "I caught my wife in bed with my neighbor," he explained, by "using the device."

    Crime's a Chore

    Theresa Burch told authorities in Melbourne, Australia, that she was walking down a street when a man forced her into his car, drove her to his apartment and made her wash and iron a pile of clothes, then wash his dirty dishes. He then released her.

    Candid Camera

    When John Robert Broos Jr., 57, reported that two men beat and robbed him outside a casino in Turtle Lake, Wis., the police checked surveillance tapes, hoping to identify the attackers. Instead, the tape showed Broos banging his head against a light pole, rubbing dirt on his face, walking back to his pickup, looking in the driver's side mirror, returning to the same light pole and striking his head against the pole three or four more times. He then applied more gravel and dirt to his face, looked at his face in the mirror and went to the casino to report the robbery. Prosecutors said Broos concocted the robbery story to cover up his gambling losses.

    Second-Amendment Follies

  • Texas state Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp introduced a bill to let rural school officials with concealed handgun licenses carry their weapons on school property, insisting it is the best way to deter school violence.

  • More than 50 persons in Baltimore accidentally shot themselves this year, mostly with illegal handguns. Police said such incidents often occur as the victims attempt to pull loaded handguns from their waistbands or pants pockets. Their fingers become stuck on the trigger, and they end up firing a bullet into their leg or groin.

    Missing the Point

    Akira Ishiguro, 38, the owner of a clothing store in Yokohama, posted a sign warning people not to enter without buying something. When a 26-year-old woman didn't buy a coat she had handled, Ishiguro shouted at her, "Didn't you see the sign outside? Do you take me for a fool?" He then forced her to get on her knees and apologize and coerced her into handing over 3,000 yen ($27.12) -- all she had on her -- as a down payment for the 42,000-yen coat.

    Culinary Arts

    Although the Fourth Annual Ham Rubbing collected $2,400 for the Myrtle Beach, S.C., fire department, the department returned the money after the city manager complained that the fund raiser was inappropriate. The event consisted of women dancing on stage while having their bare breasts rubbed with a ham.

    When Guns Are Outlawed

    Oxford University's center for criminological research reported that a shortage of firearms in Britain is forcing robbers to resort to food, particularly fruit and vegetables, as substitutes for real weapons.

    Incendiary Devices

    Missouri officials investigating two flash fires that destroyed vehicles at gas stations in Macon and Hannibal blamed sparks generated by static electricity from drivers' posteriors caused by sliding from their seats before refueling.

    Do-It-Yourself Acupuncture

    After William A. Bartron, 25, accidentally cut off his left hand at the wrist with a portable miter saw while remodeling a home in Bethlehem, Pa., he used a pneumatic nail gun to fire 15 one-inch nails into his skull. Bartron said he shot the nails into his head to take his mind off the unbearable pain from the amputation.

    Thanks for the Mammaries

    Sixteen people who ran out of food and water when they became lost after fleeing the Dominican Republic in a homemade boat survived by sucking a mother's breast milk. The eight men and seven women took turns suckling for just a few seconds a day. The woman, Faustina Mercedes, 31, fed herself by having her sister Elena Mercedes suck on her breast, then pass the milk on to her by mouth.

    Identity Crisis

    When Matthew Johnston, an assistant to Canadian member of parliament Rahim Jaffer, could not find his boss in time for a scheduled interview with a Vancouver radio station, he went on the air and pretended to be Jaffer for 45 minutes. After several callers pointed out that the guest was an imposter, the station later contacted Jaffer, who initially insisted he had given the interview, then admitted he hadn't.

    First Things First

    After a fire broke out at a restaurant in Orlando, Fla., during its popular Sunday brunch, some of the 135 customers stole tips off the table as they evacuated. Others left without paying. One man even loaded his plate with food from the buffet so he could eat in the parking lot while firefighters battled the blaze.

    Hallelujah!

    When a truck flipped over on a Houston freeway and dumped 46,000 pounds of chicken, dozens of people raced to the scene to help themselves to the processed poultry, despite warnings from officials that the birds could be contaminated from touching the ground. After stuffing his car full of boxes of chicken, passerby Ray Hutcherson declared, "Anytime you get anything free, it's got to be the work of God."

    When Plea Bargaining Isn't Enough

    Facing several motor vehicle violations in Victory Gardens, N.J., Timothy Easton, 43, reportedly burned down the municipal building by dousing the court administrator's office with kerosene, then igniting it, in an attempt to destroy court records so he wouldn't have to appear in traffic court.

    Slightest Provocations

    David Monroe Baumann, 30, pleaded guilty in San Jose, Calif., to murdering his 34-year-old wife during an argument that began over what to have for dinner. "She was serving macaroni and cheese and Tater Tots," defense lawyer Richard Rosen said, "and he wanted something more healthful."

    Entertaining Contraception

    Concerned over India's rising population, the government announced it was lowering the price of television sets to encourage people to watch TV instead of having sex. "Entertainment is an important component of the population policy," Health Minister C.P. Thakur said.

    Show and Tell

    The Catholic Church announced that all new churches in England and Wales would use glass boxes instead of the traditional wooden confessional after 21 priests in the two countries were convicted of child abuse between 1995 and 1999. Confessor and priest will be visible during the act of contrition, although the booths will be soundproofed.

    A Law We Can Live With

    Colorado outlawed aluminum underwear. Aimed at shoplifters trying to thwart stores' anti-theft scanners, the measure makes it a misdemeanor to make, wear or know others are wearing aluminum underwear for such deceptions. It also gives store employees immunity if they stop shoppers who crackle when they walk. It does permit wearing aluminum briefs and lingerie for personal amusement, however. "This is serious business," insisted State Sen. Stephanie Takis, one of the bill's sponsor.

    I Know It Even When I Don't See It

    Fred Tarrant, a city councilor in Naples, Fla. demanded that a city art center remove a controversial painting, insisting it is disgusting and salacious. Tarrant is blind.

    Yikes!

    The British Dental Journal reported a 69-year-old man had to have a toothbrush surgically removed after using it to relieve the painful itch of hemorrhoids, then losing it in his rectum.

    Litigation Nation

    Cleveland Merritt, 54, filed a federal lawsuit against Palm Beach County, Fla., claiming it violated the Americans with Disability Act when it fired him. The county dismissed the former traffic-light installer because he is colorblind and couldn't distinguish between red and green wires.

    Growing Up

    To stop children ages 3 to 15 from drinking unhealthy soft drinks, public schools in Belgium's Limburg province announced they would begin serving low-alcoholic beer in school cafeterias.

    Wrong Arm of the Law

    Just after two Seattle police officers pursuing a stolen patrol car lost sight of the vehicle, they spotted another police cruiser and mistook it for the stolen one. When they rammed it, the lone officer inside thought he was being attacked by the stolen vehicle and opened fire. The three officers in the two cars fired more than 20 rounds at each other before they realized who they were. Luckily, police said, every shot missed.

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  • From the December 27, 2001-January 2, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

    Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

    For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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