NewsQuirks 543

Fire AwayAfter Augusta, Ky., police Chief Greg Cummins stopped a traffic violator, he returned to his cruiser to find smoke pouring from the dashboard, apparently caused by an electrical fire. He tried to use his fire extinguisher to douse the blaze but had to retreat when the car began shooting at him. Flames set off ammunition inside the vehicle. "Bullets were whizzing around," Cummins said, adding he blocked the road until the shooting stopped and firefighters arrived.Crop RotationThirty-two women who work at a Sicilian garment factory announced they have decided to program their pregnancies so that the births do not occur close together, thereby avoiding production slowdowns or layoffs in the factory, which is the major employer in the small town of Riesi. Italian labor unions expressed doubt that the gesture is entirely voluntary, noting that employers have been known to pressure workers not to become pregnant, going so far as to have women when they are hired write a letter of resignation that takes effect if they become pregnant.Parts DepartmentJane Bahor, a medical researcher who makes lifelike body parts for amputees at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, discovered a way to improve prosthetic fingers by using the plastic knee joints from Barbie dolls to make artificial knuckles. Wearers of the fake fingers bend them the same way they would bend Barbie's legs. The fingers stay bent until the user straightens them. Bahor said she has used the Barbie knees to make fingers for about a dozen patients, adding the 40-year-old doll has "made her cultural contribution, now she can make a medical contribution." French physicists Joel Gilbert and Jean-Francois Petiot have developed artificial lips they say will help analyze how brass instruments sound the way they do. The lips, made from latex, are filled with water to mimic the density and flexibility of real lips. Artificial lips were needed because the research requires the lips be held in a fixed position for long periods of time. New Scientist magazine said the researchers hope the latex lips "will lead to trumpets, trombones and cornets that are easier to play."Litigation NationAfter Mortimer Hetsberger, 22, of New York was accused of robbing the same Atlantic City bank twice within three days, he filed a $1.5-million lawsuit against the bank teller who waited on him the first time, charging her with slander. She said he threatened to shoot her. He insisted he didn't.Molly D'Errico, a former personal assistant to Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Lillian Podgorski, charged her boss with causing her mental anguish because of her "extreme, bizarre and abnormal" behavior. D'Errico said she required psychiatric treatment because for three years the judge made her work in a locked office, check visitors in through a peephole, place all paperwork on the judge's desk face down so no one else could see it and have the judge's business and personal calls routed to D'Errico's home to avoid suspected wiretaps. D'Errico was awarded workers compensation, but Commonwealth Court denied the claim on appeal, explaining that Podgorski's behavior may have been "uncivil and perhaps excessive" but did not constitute abnormal working conditions.After New Jersey highway patrolman James Kenna opened fire on a van carrying four people, wounding three of the passengers, he sued the state police, claiming they returned him to duty too soon after he was attacked by a motorist a month before. He said the earlier attack, in which a man he had pulled over knocked him to the ground and tried to run him over with his own patrol car, left him afraid and traumatized, and made him "a risk to himself and others."Vincent Minervini of Keansburg, N.J., filed a $35 million lawsuit against the Baltimore Orioles' mascot for hitting and pushing him and taking his property without permission. The suit names Jeff Gartner, one of three people who wear the Oriole Bird costume, two escorts, two police officers and an usher who he claims mishandled him during an Orioles home game against the New York Mets. Minervini is a Mets fan.A former Bird mascot, John J. Krownapple, filed a $200,000 lawsuit against Louis Vitigliano of Philadelphia, who Krownapple says pushed him off the right field wall during an Orioles-Phillies game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The 10-foot fall chipped a bone in one ankle and badly bruised the other. Vitigliano is a Phillies fan.Susan McDonough filed a $2-million lawsuit in federal court in New York against Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., claiming that she was hit on the head by a coconut husk during a cruise to Puerto Rico. According to the ship's safety officer, the coconut husk, which was used to hold an alcoholic drink called a Coco Loco, was dropped by a careless passenger on the deck above. Noting the drink weighs about four pounds, Daniel Sessa, an owner of the International Bartenders School in New York, told the Wall Street Journal, "Allowing customers to stand at the rail holding Coco Loco drinks is a recipe for disaster, an accident waiting to happen."Egyptian lawyer Mohammed Baddy, 40, sued U.S. President Bill Clinton, demanding $5 million compensation for mental anguish caused by Clinton's naming his dog Buddy. Baddy said he lost his dignity because the similarity of their names made him the butt of people's jokes. An Egyptian court dismissed the suit, saying it had no jurisdiction because any infringement of Baddy's rights occurred outside Egypt.Flooded with SuccessWhen Vice President Al Gore decided that canoeing along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire last summer would be a good photo opportunity, members of the Connecticut River Joint Commission and the Secret Service visited the site beforehand and determined the low water level might cause the vice president's canoe to run aground. According to the Washington Times, the commission asked the local utility company to open a dam, releasing 4 billion gallons of water to raise the water level. After his trip, Gore announced that the government was awarding the Connecticut River Joint Commission a $100,000 grant.Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to P.O. Box 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

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