NewsQuirks 586

Curses, Foiled Again

A 19-year-old clerk's plan to steal cash from the convenience store where he worked in Shawnee, Kan., failed even though he put tape over the lenses of two security cameras before he called police to claim he had been robbed. He used transparent tape. When police arrived the clerk told them the robber ordered him to tape over the camera, but after reviewing the videotape, Shawnee police Lt. Mitch Brim said it "looks a little fuzzy, but I don't see any robbery in there." Don D. Astorga, 31, was convicted of smuggling a dozen lizards from the Philippines to the United States by concealing them in his underwear. At Astorga's trial, Las Vegas police Detective John Zidzik testified that he approached the defendant at McCarran International Airport because the man had "unusual bulges in his groin area not consistent with male anatomy." Zidzik searched Astorga and found 12 lizards, one a foot long, stuffed into several tube socks in Astorga's underwear.

Government in Action

A $2.5-million project by New York City and I.B.M. to create death certificates online was in disarray six months after its startup, the New York Times reported. The system recorded death dates that were earlier than birth dates and indicated some men were pregnant at the time of their deaths. "We simply don't understand what the problem is," said Wilson Bebee, executive director of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association. One day after a gas explosion in New York City killed Leonard and Harriet Walit in their Brooklyn home, city officials sent a letter to the dead husband demanding that he clean up the rubble. "The responsibility to take such action is yours," said the letter signed by Brooklyn borough building commissioner Tarek Zeid, "and because of the severity of the condition, the work must begin immediately."

Big-Time Loser

Zippy Chippy, the losingest horse in the recorded history of thoroughbred racing, put his 0-and-86 record on the line against a human competitor, Jose H errera, 27, an outfielder for the Rochester Red Wings baseball team. Herrera got a quick start in the 40-yard sprint across the outfield grass at Rochester's Frontier Field and beat the 9-year-old gelding by three horse lengths. "I think 40 yards is too short for Zippy Chippy to win," handicapper Dave Mattice told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "If Herrera had to carry a jockey, it would be more fair."

Boot-Scootin' Boogie

Roman Kunikov, an engineering professor at Russia's Ufa Aviation Technical University, announced the invention of gasoline-powered boots, which he demonstrated can attain speeds of up to 25 mph and strides of 13 feet. Each boots weighs 2 pounds and incorporates a 1-foot-long piston that straps along the calf and fires downward, pushing a metal plate away from the bottom of the shoe and lifting the wearer upward. Metal rods on the soles act as shock absorbers.

Beef with Sprouts

Alaska's Supreme Court ruled that Lawrence Allen, a pipeline worker in Prudhome Bay, is entitled to disability benefits because he ate Brussels sprouts in a company cafeteria. The Wall Street Journal reported Allen later experienced severe gastric distress and had to be airlifted to Anchorage, where a doctor found two balls of undigested food obstructing his small bowel. The doctor said the sprouts were probably the cause. The court accepted Allen's argument that the only food he could eat was what his employer served him.

Water World

Thousands of fish suffocated near Golden, Colo., after an employee of Coors Brewing Co. flipped the wrong switch and sent 77,500 gallons of beer into Clear Creek. The Colorado Department of Public Health advised residents to avoid contact with the creek downstream of the brewery, explaining the water could cause illness if consumed. Abandoned coal mines in southern West Virginia are supporting the state's commercial fish farming industry. Water pumped from flooded mines contains low levels of sulfur and other contaminates, and at about 55 degrees is about the right temperature to support fish. "The ironic thing is that without deep mining, the water would not be available," said Mike Whitt, executive director of the Mingo Redevelopment Authority, whose aquaculture facility near Pie raises arctic char eggs to fingerlings.

Get-Rich Scheme

Yarneiser Perez, 25, admitted placing 153 calls to a friend's psychic line from a Jersey City, N.J., bank where he worked as a contractor. The calls, made over five months, totaled 546 hours and 30 minutes, costing the bank $163,614. Perez explained the psychic line in the Dominican Republic was owned by a friend, whose income he was helping to boost. "In many instances," federal prosecutors charged, "defendant Perez left the phone off the hook for hours so that his friend at Teleamigos would receive greater compensation."

Lost Cause

When authorities in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, arrested Nancy Lee Anderson and her brother Terry Lee Anderson after finding 550,000 rounds of ammunition in their truck, the pair insisted they had no idea how they turned up in Mexico. They explained they had set out from Arkansas with their $440,000 cargo headed for Montana but must have made a wrong turn.

Spoil Sports

A 27-year-old corrections officer at the Regional Justice Center in Kent, Wash., was suspended for a month without pay after he admitted to sprinkling itching powder in the beds of four inmates. "He messed up," facility commander Reed Holtgeerts said after the four victims filed grievances. After Ivana Trump appeared on an Italian television program called "Scherzi A Parte," which is similar to "Candid Camera," she filed a $3-million lawsuit, charging that the show's employees doused her with water without warning. She said the dousing ruined her $3,000 dress, made her lose a pair of $25,000 earrings and cost her $400 in medical treatment. "She was not treated with respect on that show," said Trump's lawyer, Dan Harrigan.

The Lord Helps Them What Helps Themselves

After taking a few days' vacation, a woman in Covington, Ga., returned to find that her neighbor and two others had used her apartment as their "own personal Wal-Mart," police said, helping themselves to clothing, cleaning supplies, food, appliances and furniture. "They needed an iron, so they went and got hers," Newton County police Lt. Ezel Brown said. "And they definitely had some very good meals at her expense."

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