NewsQuirks 571

Curses, Foiled Again

A woman who robbed a restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., hopped into her car to make her getaway, but the 1980 Datsun stalled. Two men at the restaurant, one of them a retired city police officer, then went outside and pretended to help her while someone inside the restaurant called the police. "From what I understand, one was attempting to push from one side, while the other was attempting to pull," Detective Elizabeth Griego said. The criminal complaint said that when the police arrived, suspect Christina Lenard, 42, said to one of the men, "that's why you couldn't start me, huh?" Noting that Lenard blamed her actions on depression, the complaint added: "Ms. Lenard stated she is not stupid and knew the men were stalling until police arrived."

Two-Legged Tales

When T'Chacka Mshinda Thorpe, 25, tried to run away from police in Lynchburg, Va., his low-waisted, baggy pants fell to his ankles, causing him to trip and break a leg. After catching up to him, police found a bag of cocaine in his pants pocket.

When a gunman fired a shot at a Philadelphia police officer in early May, the bullet missed the officer but hit bystander Willie Marbury, 53, who was waiting for a bus. "Luckily, he was not injured," Detective Capt. Tom Nestel said, "because he was wearing three pairs of jeans. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the bullet. It had gone through the first pair of his pants but not the second or third."

On Guard

Belgian researchers announced that after teaching African Giant Pouched rats to recognize the smell of dynamite, they are sending the rodents to Tanzania to work as land mine detectors. Christophe Cox, chief technical engineer for the Antwerp-based research group Apopo, explained that once a minefield has been identified, the rats sniff out mines, then sit beside them waiting to be rewarded with food.

Canadian health authorities began stationing chickens along the U.S. border from Saskatchewan to the Atlantic provinces to detect the deadly West Nile virus, which struck New York last year. Harvey Artsob, chief of zoonotic diseases at Health Canada's Laboratory Centre for Disease Control in Ottawa, said the birds will be checked once a week to determine if they have the virus.

Authorities at the Berga prison in Helsingborg, Sweden, brought in more than 20 geese as guards in 1992, primarily to prevent drug smuggling and thwart escapes. They put inmates in charge of feeding the geese, however, and gradually the birds' loyalties shifted. Prison governor Thomas Kragh noted that the geese began sounding the alarm whenever guards approached and allowed prisoners to escape "without the birds making a sound." This spring, the geese were retired from their sentry duties and now only provide the kitchen with eggs.

Footing the Bill

Podiatrist Daniel Pelsang, 33, pleaded guilty in Omaha, Neb., to federal health-care fraud for submitting $500,000 worth of false bills for treatment of his mother's feet. Pelsang told insurance companies that his mother needed a lot of care.

Butt Heads

When Pennsylvania's Bucks County Prison became smoke-free in December 1997, inmates stopped using cigarettes for bartering and started using the regionally popular Tastykakes snack food, which are given to inmates who do extra work. "It used to be if they didn't smoke cigarettes, they were given Tastykakes," said Scott Mitchell, the Bucks County director of public information. "It was just expanded to all Tastykakes after the smoking ban."

Edward Furtak, 43, disappeared into the Australian outback for six months after buying a second-hand fire truck and filling it with water. When he returned he explained he had simply been trying to give up smoking. "I really needed to have a holiday, needed to get out in the middle of nowhere where I just couldn't have a smoke," he said.

Occupational Hazards

Brazil's Brahma brewing company was ordered to compensate its former senior brewer, Bernd Naveke, who argued that spending 20 years having to drink up to 3.1 gallons of beer a day conducting quality tests turned him into an alcoholic.

TV Woes

Ricky Bones, a pitcher for the Florida Marlins, missed a start against the Atlanta Braves because of an injury that occurred while watching television. Marlins manager John Boles said Bones was relaxing in a recliner in the clubhouse when he started to stand up and strained his back.

Old Habits Die Hard

Former police detective Paul Harrington, 53, who was charged with murdering his wife and children 25 years ago but found innocent by reason of insanity, confessed to killing his second wife and their son last fall, according to Detroit authorities. "The same thing happened in 1975," Harrington told police. "They should have put me away then."

Keeping the Customer Satisfied

Jose Casanova, 23, told Philadelphia police that the drug bosses who paid him $500 to shoot John Hernandez Cruz to death sent him back to the abandoned house where he left the body to bury it in the basement. Two days later, the Daily News reported, Casanova said he was ordered to go back "and set the old house on fire." Firefighters extinguished the blaze without finding the body, and a few days later Casanova was told "to take John's body out of the house, put it in a car and burn it." The body was found in the burning car. Besides receiving no money for the additional work other than the original $500, Casanova was ordered to stand trial not just for murder, but also for arson and abuse of corpse.

Deader Than Dead

Shortly after Ethel Marie Gue, 77, put three six-ounce aerosol bug bombs in a kitchen cabinet in her mobile home in Bryans Road, Md., the insecticide came in contact with the pilot light of her gas stove and caused an explosion that her son Raymond, 46, who was in the home, said "sounded like a grenade going off." No one was injured, but the trailer's walls were bowed out and most of the windows were blown out. Damage was estimated at $12,000. Gue's daughter, Patricia, told the Washington Post that her mother didn't really have a bug problem, but when "she sees one bug, she's going to kill them all."

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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