NewsQuirks 313

Just Desserts

John Schieman, 37, was charged with robbery, assault and grand larceny after his intended victim, Robin Van Bortle, 32, beat him with an anti-theft device known as the Club. She told police she was attaching it to her car steering wheel in suburban Rochester, N.Y., when Schieman tried to force his way into her car, so she "just started to hit him with it."

Road Worriers

Drivers whose cars have air bags may cause more crashes than drivers without them because the added protection makes them more willing to take risks, according to a study by Virginia Commonwealth University economists George Hoffer, Edward Millner and Steven Peterson. "They think technology will bail them out," Hoffer said. Meanwhile, thieves are targeting driver's-side air bags, in some cases leaving drivers unaware that they have no protection. Since the safety devices are designed to be easily replaced after an accident, thieves are able to remove them in less than three minutes. "It's the fastest-growing scheme in stolen parts," sai Jack Dever of USAA auto insurance. Factory replacements cost from $360 to $1,800. One undercover police officer, who was part of a New York Police Department sting last August that netted 2,100 stolen air bags and engine computers from body shops and salvage yards, explained, "I sold the air bags for $25 to $50, then we bought them back posing as car owners for $250."

Spoils of Royalty

London's Royal Parks ad agency announced it is selling opportunities to advertise on 16 flagpoles in front of Buckingham Palace. Noting that 17 million tourists hang around the site every year, creating a "super" opportunity, the agency said poles may be sponsored for as long as 50 years, at prices ranging from $13,000 to $40,000. Plaques bearing the sponsor's name and logo will be hung at eye level, but the agency insisted the displays would be "discreet and in no way demean the grandeur of state events.

Several Americans paid as much as $63,000 to a bogus company that promised to make them British royalty. "It was a simple scheme, in the sense that it worked on the basis that there are in England titles that can be bought and sold and that there are people outside England who don't have such titles but who have the money to buy them," prosecutor Stephen Waine told London's Southwark Crown Court after Stefanos Kollakis and Martin Lewis, both 26, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit forgery. Authorities explained the men used false passports, bogus companies, Latin mottoes and a nonexistent "Institution of Heraldic Affairs" to lend credibility to their offer to turn plain Americans into lords and ladies who could wear the robes of nobility and attend royal functions, including riding in the Queen Mother's birthday procession.

The Wet Ones

James L. Bonneville, 41, of Duluth, Minn., was accused of breaking into homes and taking diapers and women's underwear. Police said he later left the items, soiled, on the owners' lawns, in newspaper boxes or hanging from shrubs and fences.

After three people in Toutle, Wash., had to be treated at a hospital for exposure to an unknown substance described as "highly corrosive" and perhaps life-threatening, a state toxic spill team arrived to analyze the mound of greenish gel found near an old logging road. Their conclusion: dirty diapers. "It was, uh, like an absorbent gel inside the disposable diaper," said Brett Manning of the state Department of Ecology's spill response team. "After sitting there for several months, it took on a greenish appearance. It was actually the urine that turned this color."

Determination

In suburban London, thieves stole a safe, stashed it in their car and parked outside their pub. While celebrating the heist, they saw police arrive outside and confiscate the getaway car. The gang broke into the police station to reclaim the car. Then they called the Daily Star newspaper to boast that they still wound up with the safe, which contained more than $20,000, plus made the police "look like real idiots." A police spokesperson commented, "I am afraid this is all true."

Oops!

In the trial of six men charged with attempting Britain's biggest cash robbery, prosecuting lawyer Guy Boney told the court that the gang forced an armored car carrying $18.2 million to be driven to a wooded area, then used high-powered torches to open it. But, Boney noted, the torches also set off "a horrendously expensive bonfire" that turned up to $2.4 million into ashes and caused the men to flee.

Susan Evans, 38, asked her boyfriend to play her lucky numbers in Britain's $13-million national lottery. The numbers won, but Evans lost. Her boyfriend got stuck behind another customer and when he played the number, the ticket machine started to process the number but didn't issue a ticket because the deadline fell.

K.O. Silver

The Lone Ranger and his once-faithful Indian companion Tonto have split. In a Topps Comic published in February, the buckskin-wearing Indian tells the masked man, "I'm not your Indian....I'm not anyone's Indian. I'm Tonto." Then he punches him. Topps associate publisher Jim Salicrup told the Miam Herald that the split has nothing to do with political correctness, although he conceded that some people are bound to "see it that way."

Foot-in-Mouth Disease

During a debate by the North Carolina House Appropriations Committee on a proposal to eliminate a state abortion fund for poor women, Rep. Henry Aldridge, 71, intended to apoogize for earlier remarks implying that victims of rape or incest are sexually promiscuous when he expressed the belief that rape victims don't get pregnant. "The facts show that people who are raped -- who are truly raped --the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work, and they don't get pregnant. Medical authorities agree this is a rarity, if ever." Aldridge later defended his comments against criticism: "To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain't much cooperation with rape."

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