NewsQuirks 618

Curses, Foiled Again

When Gregory Walter showed up in a Memphis court on burglary and drug-possession charges, his first mistake was not hiring a lawyer as he had previously been instructed. His second mistake was taking a seat in the spectator section instead of a row of chairs at the front of the courtroom where suspects must sit. When he changed seats, he made his third mistake: hastily trying to hide a small plastic bag of cocaine he had in his shirt pocket. Courtroom deputy Clayton Maclin spotted him. After ordering Walter be taken into custody, Judge W. Fred Axley advised him not to visit any casinos when he was released, "because your luck's not too good."

A burglar who was scared off while breaking into a house in Ipoh, Malaysia, returned minutes later, explaining he had forgotten the keys to his getaway car. When the occupants refused to hand them over, he pleaded with them not to call the police, then tore off his car's license plate and smashed the windshield to remove the tax sticker. Police superintendent Che Sab Hanafiah said investigators would use the serial number on the vehicle's chassis to trace the suspect.

Tax Dollars at Work

The Defense Department installed a computer designed to stop fraud by ordering supplies automatically, but an internal report found the machine has been costing 10 times as much as a human would. The computer failed to check for the best price on the market, instead consulting only one supplier at a time. As a result, $1.2 million of its $14 million budget is estimated to have been spent on overpayments, such as paying $409 for a sink that should have cost less than $50.

Slightest Provocation

Police in Phoenix, Ariz., reported that when a 43-year-old man in a wheelchair refused to share his beer with two men, they attacked him and stabbed him to death.

Edin Rekanovic, 31, was watching television with some friends at a rest aurant in Des Moines, Iowa, when someone walked over and turned off the set. When Rekanovic turned it back on, a man turned it off again and asked Rekanovic if he had a problem. After the restaurant closed, the anti-TV patrons challenged the pro-TV group to a fight. As soon as Rekanovic got out of his car, according to police, "suspects began hitting him with objects and also kicking him." They also attacked a nephew who tried to rescue Rekanovic with a bat. "It was unbelievable but true," restaurant owner Zdenko Bjelica told the Des Moines Register. "I can't imagine how this became a problem."

Honesty the Best Policy

Ricardo Antonio Pacheco, a bank vault manager at Bank One in New Orleans, stole $663,000 over the past 10 years, then decided to admit his embezzlement. He resigned on March 8 and tried to confess to federal prosecutors that day, but the U.S. attorney's office said it was too busy to see him and told him to come back March 14. "What makes this so bizarre is that there was never even a suspicion, not even a hint," Vinny Mosca, Pacheco's lawyer, said. "He used a complex record-keeping system to keep this thing going. He survived an audit every month."

Tung Kam-hon, 54, turned himself into Hong Kong authorities for a crime he committed 23 years ago. Tung admitted conspiring to traffic in drugs but failed to show up for his trial in 1978 because he feared for the welfare of his 11-year-old son if he was convicted and jailed. The South China Morning Post reported Tung lived respectably and operated a restaurant but surrendered because he wanted to show his son, now 34, that he was a good role model. A Hong Kong court sentenced Tung to three years in jail.

Drinking-Class Heroes

Frederick Somerfield, 79, a retired Australian lawyer, was awarded a disability pension after arguing that his heart was damaged by excessive drinking, a habit he picked up during World War II. "It was not until I entered the army in 1941 that I commenced the consumption of alcohol on a regular basis due to its availability, low cost and the necessity of mateship and subsequently the stress of overseas service."

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that William E. Larsen was entitled to worker's compensation for frostbite injuries he suffered during a sales trip when he passed out drunk. Larsen consumed five or six drinks at a tavern, then proceeded to his mobile home, which doubled as a sales office. He passed out trying to enter the mobile home, spent the night exposed to below-zero temperatures and suffered severe frostbite. The court ruled that Larsen was subjected to the freezing temperatures because of his job but did reduce his benefits by 15 percent because he was intoxicated.

India is an ideal place to study alcoholism, according to U.S. researchers, because its alcoholics devote themselves exclusively to drinking. "The Indian sample is not contaminated by the effect of other drugs," Theodore Reich, professor of psychiatry and genetics art Missouri's Washington School of Medicine told the Times of India, "so we can study the effect of alcohol in a relatively pure way."

When a truck trailer lost a wheel and crashed near the town of Tweed Heads in New South Wales, Australia, its cargo -- about 24,000 bottles of beer -- sank in the Tweed River. Many local residents spent the Easter weekend diving for the beer, some outfitted in scuba gear, according to police inspector Stan Single, who noted the treasure hunters "obviously thought the owners had abandoned the load, and they better get the rest."

Stale beer may help clean up pollution from abandoned mines, according to University of Tulsa chemist Tom Harris. He told a meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego that the fermenting bacteria in beer can accelerate the process of neutralizing the acidic solution of heavy-metal ions formed when groundwater reacts with minerals in old mine tunnels and eventually poisons the surrounding soil. Harris said he chose beer that's past its sell-by date because of its high sugar content and because he knows a beer distributor who throws out nearly 1,000 gallons of expired suds every month.

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