NewsQuirks 444: Year in Review Special

Special: Year in ReviewTo close out the year, here are the top odd-news dispatches of 1997.Mensa Reject of the Year (Tie)Peter and Linda Garnett of Grantham, England, were convicted of theft for trying to deposit a bogus check for 9.7 million pounds ($16.6 million) at the bank where Mrs. Garnett worked. Tellers began to suspect something was wrong when Mr. Garnett, 54, then tried to withdraw 50,000 pounds while simultaneously cashing his welfare check for 350 pounds.Paul and Bonnie Stiller were driving around Andover Township, N.J., at 2 a.m. when, police said, they decided to toss a quarter-stick of dynamite out the window "just to see what would happen." After lighting the fuse, they discovered they had forgotten to roll down a window. Both were injured in the explosion. Daniel Sutherland of Indiana County, Pa., went to bed around midnight, but before falling asleep he picked up the .22-caliber handgun on his night stand to make sure it was loaded. To check, he blew down the barrel with his finger on the trigger. The gun fired, shooting Sutherland in the mouth. "When I blew on it," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from his hospital bed, "it blew back." Police in Fort Collins, Colo., charged Steven E. Peterson, 32, with robbing the same 7-Eleven twice in one day, telling the clerk after the second hold-up that he would be back in a few hours to rob the place a third time. True to his word, he returned and was arrested by detectives still in the store investigating the second robbery.Climbing the Family TreeChildless couples in a remote jungle region of Borneo were discovered stealing orangutan babies from a nature park to raise as their own. Edwin Bosi, who runs the Sepilok rehabilitation center for orangutans, said three or four of the apes disappear every month, adding that some of the animals have turned up in the nearby homes of plantation workers, who shave the animals' body hair to make them look more human.Inscrutable LogicDuring divorce proceedings, Xu Cheng-shun, an actor with a Beijing opera troupe in Shanghai, attacked his wife in the courtroom and bit off her nose. He explained that his action was a desperate attempt to save his marriage, reasoning that if she was disfigured nobody else would marry her.First-Hand SmokeThroat cancer victim Abraham Mosley, 64, accidentally set himself on fire while trying to light a cigar but couldn't call for help because his illness had destroyed his vocal cords. Confined to a hospital bed in his kitchen, the Gainesville, Fla., resident apparently ignited strips of paper on a stove burner to light the cigar, since his cancer left him unable to manipulate matches or a lighter. The flaming paper lit the gauze bandages around his neck, then the flames spread to his pajamas. "I don't ever want to witness anything like I witnessed this morning," said Mosley's sister, Katie Brown. "He was a walking torch when I woke up."Unfriendly SkiesTurkish Airlines fired pilot Altan Tezcan and co-pilot Erdogan Gecim, who were flying 240 passengers from Bangkok to Istanbul, after the two got into a fist fight in the cockpit while arguing over their aircraft's altitude.Jack of All TradesAfter setting sail on a solo voyage around the world, Peter Goss, 35, said an inflamed tendon in his arm began causing problems. Three months into the voyage, he operated on himself to repair the tendon, using a flashlight strapped to his head for illumination and following faxed instructions from a French doctor. "It's a strange sensation slicing away at yourself with a scalpel," Goss told London's Daily Telegraph.Devil's FoodSt. Charles Catholic Church in Picayune, Miss., and St. Margaret Mary Church in nearby Slidell, La., began posting guards to make sure parishioners swallow communion wafers. After a half-dozen people were seen leaving St. Charles with unswallowed wafers, priests worried that some church-goers might be pocketing the wafers to use for satanic rituals.Nit-Picker of the YearPolice in Key West, Fla., charged Jose Antonio Borrell, a busboy at Marriott's Casa Marina oceanfront resort, with murdering head dishwasher Reyes Blas Morales after the two argued over how to put silverware into a dishwashing machine. "That's probably the dumbest motive I've ever heard," said Detective Sgt. Emilio Yannacone, explaining that following the argument, Borrell left the posh resort and returned with a 9-mm semiautomatic. "He shoots him twice, the guy goes down, he shoots him four more times while he's on the floor."GotchaRaoul Garzas of Sao Paulo, Brazil, appeared on television to plead for help in tracking down his long-lost father. When they were reunited, he shot his father dead, explaining afterwards, "I'd always hated him."Best ExcusePolice in Fort Pierce, Fla., charged Richard Dorsey, 19, with robbing a grave when they found bones in the trunk of his car. Dorsey explained that he needed the bones to measure for a coffin he was building that he planned to use for Halloween, but when he went to return the bones a few days later, the grave had been filled in.Do-Gooder of the Year (Tie)After undergoing surgery to remove a lump of cholesterol from a neck artery, Philippine President Fidel Ramos announced he would auction off the lump to raise money to help the poor.Kenyan conservationist Mike Bugara announced he has developed paper made from elephant dung. He explained he collects the droppings, boils them, crushes them until they are the consistency of oatmeal, then rolls them out into sheets and lets them dry in the sun.President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan and Vice President Lien Chan requested permanent 25 percent pay cuts, according to a government announcement, which added that the cuts will be accompanied by pay increases for lower-level officials.Just DessertsLaurence Baker, 47, serving a life sentence in a Pittsburgh penitentiary for murder, defied the rules by making his own headphones to watch television in his cell. He plugged them into the set, then sat down on the stainless-steel toilet for an evening of viewing. He was immediately electrocuted.Anything for a BuckThe University of Toronto's medical school hires people to pretend to be patients for its students to practice on. Pay starts at $12. The top earner, at $35 an hour, is Bob LeRoy, 45, who submits to rectal exams. "I always hope," he explains, "the student with the biggest finger goes first."British Rail announced plans to harness some of its employees to posts 6 to 9 feet from railroad tracks to determine how close maintenance workers could safely work to trains traveling up to 140 mph. No BR workers volunteered, but, according to a spokesperson, more than 50 members of the public called to offer their services, including one caller who termed the experiment "the railway equivalent of bungee-jumping."Name GameJohn Jakubowski asked a Michigan court to let him change his name to "Kiss My Ass." He explained that he wanted to protest years of conflicts over local laws, property rights and property taxes. The judge denied the request, ruling that he thought Jakubowski just wanted to "hide behind the name as a way to use the expression," suggesting the trouble that might result if he was stopped by a police officer for a traffic infraction.Just in Time for the MillenniumScientists at a lab in Albuquerque, N.M., announced they are developing tiny mechanical soldiers, ranging in size from a shoe box to a dime. Expected to be ready for action by 2001, the so-called Small, Smart Machines, also known as "battlefield robots," will crawl, hop and eventually fly over minefields, across deserts and beaches and through towns, gathering information for nearby troops or headquarters thousands of miles away. "These little guys will do things it's impossible for people to do now," said Pat Eicker, director of Intelligent Systems and Robotics at Sandia National Laboratories.Japanese researchers at Tokyo University succeeded in surgically implanting American cockroaches with microrobotic backpacks and pulse-emitting electrodes that allow them to be controlled electronically. Assistant Professor Isao Shimoyama, director of the government-funded project, explained that remote-controlled insects carrying mini-cameras or other sensory devices could prove useful by crawling through rubble to find earthquake survivors or slipping under doors on espionage missions.Twelve senior Scottish judges began testing a new computerized system for sentencing criminals. The Sentencing Information System (SIS), developed by the computer research department at Strathclyde university, includes data compiled from more than 6,000 Scottish court cases. When a judge keys in details of a particular crime, SIS theoretically hands down an appropriate punishment.Silver LiningNitric oxide, according to two studies reported in the New England Journal of Mediucine, may help newborns with lung problems breathe more easily. Nitric oxide is an ingredient of smog. The gas also controls blood pressure and kills tumor cells.Missing the PointAnchorage, Alaska, requested an exemption from an Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring cities to remove at least 30 percent of "organic waste" from incoming sewage before treating it. Officials pointed out that the city had so little organic waste to begin with that its sewage before treatment was cleaner than most cities' sewage after treatment. The EPA, nevertheless, insisted that the city comply with the rule, forcing it to have to pay fish processors to dump unused fish parts into city sewer so there would be enough organic waste to remove.The Hong Kong Stock Exchange censured and fined the Great Honest Investment brokerage firm for charging clients less than the exchange's minimum 0.25 percent commission on transactions. After announcing the $1,900 fine, the exchange printed the censure in Hong Kong newspapers, explaining that Great Honest's generous conduct was "injurious to the character and interests and prejudicial to the objects of the exchange."Giant Leap for FrogkindScientists succeeded in making a frog float in mid-air. According to the magazine New Scientist, the team from Britain's University of Nottingham and the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands also made plants, grasshoppers and fish float and see no reason why they cannot do the same thing with a human. The levitation works by using a giant magnetic field, which slightly distorts the orbits of electrons in the frog's atoms.Wrong Place at the Wrong TimeFour men in a truck forced a car off the road near Warsaw and demanded money from the occupants, Konstantin Vaigin and Gennady Ramensky. The two men are coaches of the Russian and Belarussian biathlete teams that had just competed in the world championships in Slovakia and were riding ahead of the bus carrying their teams. They stalled the robbers until the bus rolled up. Seeing what was happening, the athletes grabbed the rifles they use in their sport and began loading them, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency, which reported the attackers "were seen running away for all they were worth."Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

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