NewsQuirks 544

Trick or TreatDuring a Halloween hayride in St. Clair County, Ala., actor Garrett Allmon, 22, portrayed a grave digger who was supposed to frighten the 10 riders by firing a pistol loaded with blanks into the air. Instead, he fired at the riders. Instead of blanks, the gun contained real bullets, which killed a 13-year-old girl and wounded an 8-year-old girl. "He realizes he made bad judgment," Sheriff Terry Surles said, adding he didn't know why the gun contained live ammunition.A group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was walking down the aisle of a lecture hall promoting a fraternity Halloween party when a metal pipe filled with paper and an explosive material that one of the students was carrying accidentally detonated. The student and two others were wounded. Cambridge, Mass., Deputy Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said the explosion was caused by "some sort of theatrical type of flash material."Officials closed a London subway station on Halloween night after paramedics found what they believed to be a human fetus. Fearing a woman had had a miscarriage, they rushed it to the hospital, only to discover that it was a child's alien egg toy. It contains what looks like a tiny unborn child curled in a fetal position and suspended in a gooey placenta-like substance. Countdown to the MillenniumAfter spending more than $2.8 billion to upgrade their systems to avoid year 2000 computer problems, America's major telephone companies now are spending additional money to warn customers not to test the systems by making New Year's calls. The companies said they fear millions of people will lift the receivers just after midnight to check for a dial tone and that such volume will clog the system, resulting in a fast busy signal or no dial tone at all. Another concern is that people might dial 911 to check the number, even if there's no emergency. "Don't even test it," Bell Atlantic spokesperson Jim Smith cautioned. "It's going to work."Post offices in some parts of the country have removed their digital clocks, which had been installed as part of a nationwide promotion to count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the year 2000. Customers complained that the clocks were reminders that doomsday is coming or made them more time-conscious, as if their lives are going too fast. And, according to Sam Bolen, public affairs manager for the Postal Service's Southwest area, some customers simply said that the clocks reminded them of how long they were spending waiting in line. Role ModelsThree volunteer firefighters in Mason, W.Va., were accused of setting a fire that injured one of their colleagues. One of the accused, Christopher Yonker, 21, said the volunteers set the fire because they had gone too long without fighting one.Federal drug investigators said they found at least 150 pounds of "very high quality" marijuana in the basement of a home belonging to Michael Sowan, 29, a captain in the Solvay, N.Y., Neighborhood Watch program. Agents charged him and three other men with growing, processing and selling the drug. "We're glad he got caught," police Chief Richard Cox told the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper after ousting Sowan from the 370-member Neighborhood Watch program. "He let a lot of people down in the village."Federal authorities charged anthropologist Ansley Hamid, a former professor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice who was conducting a federally funded study of heroin use and distribution, with using the drug himself and spending some of the grant money to buy compact disc equipment and CDs. He was also charged with spending more than $6,500 in grant funds to finance trips to Florida, Hawaii and Trinidad. The Florida trip, according to one witness, "was one big party."Paraguay's senior anti-corruption official, Chief National Auditor Daniel Fretes Ventre, 66, may face corruption charges himself, according to the country's attorney general. Announcing that he would seek Fretes Ventre's impeachment, Attorney Anibal Cabrera explained that sufficient evidence existed that the chief auditor engaged in money laundering and extortion. John G. Holl, 47, the director of New Jersey's Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated near his home in Maplewood. According to the attorney general's office, Holl immediately "voluntarily resigned."Forgotten but Not GoneAfter searching 12 years for a man wanted for stealing $15, Chinese authorities finally located the suspect hiding in a three-foot hole he had dug underneath a closet in his house in Xinyuan county. According to the Legal Daily newspaper, the man, identified only as Lu, hid in the hole during the day and came out briefly only at night.Ukrainian authorities reported finding Stephan Kovaltchuk, 75, who spent 57 years hiding in the attic of his sister's home in Montchintsi. At first he was trying to avoid the Nazis, then he hid from Soviet military recruiters. Apparently Kovaltchuk never learned that the Ukraine had become independent, emerging from his hiding place only after his sister died. All's Well That Ends WellTwo Auburn, Wash., men facing long prison terms for a rape they insisted they didn't commit had their convictions reversed when evidence turned up showing that the alleged victim was in the Auburn Municipal Jail at the time she said she was attacked. Thomas Campbell, the attorney representing one of the men, said the woman apparently had a grudge against the defendants because she thought they had taken her husband's truck, adding that her jail time wasn't discovered before the trial because she used an alias when she was booked. Flushed with PrideYang Zhu, nine months pregnant with her first child, was traveling home on a Chinese express train when she began having stomach pains. According to the Xinhua News Agency, her husband took her to the restroom where, "to her great surprise," she gave birth to a baby boy "as soon as she squatted down." Panic-stricken, Yang ripped off the umbilical cord, whereupon the baby slipped through the toilet and fell on to the rails. It survived with only cuts and bruises. Find the IronyAmerican Indians, whom history says introduced tobacco to European settlers, filed a lawsuit seeking more than $1 billion in damages from U.S. tobacco companies. The suit argues that the Native Americans were unfairly excluded from last year's nationwide tobacco settlement between major U.S. cigarette makers and attorneys general from 46 states.Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to P.O. Box 8130, Alexandria VA 22306. Quirky news fans will enjoy the latest collection, "Strange Tails: All-Too-True News from the Animal Kingdom," compiled by John J. Kohut and Roland Sweet (Plume Books).

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