NewsQuirks 640

Curses, Foiled Again and Again

Convicted murderer Harold Laird, 26, escaped from a prison outside Beaumont, Texas, only to be arrested two days later when a police officer in Hattiesburg, Miss., spotted him sitting in a pickup truck outside an abandoned grocery store. "The officer thought that the truck had no business parking there," Texas prisons spokesperson Larry Todd explained, noting the officer ran a check and learned the pickup was stolen.

Laird was originally arrested for a 1992 attack that left two people dead when a police officer in State College, Pa., who intended to ticket Laird for parking illegally ended up arresting him for the killings.

Victim of His Own Road Rage

When Mark Norcera of Acme, Pa., jumped out of his car to yell at a driver ahead of him who stopped to let a possum cross the road, an oncoming vehicle struck him. Norcera was hospitalized with leg and head injuries.


Even though the Defense Department this spring canceled contracts to have the Army's new black berets made in China, two flag factories in China reported receiving orders for more than 1.1 million American flags following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The firms stopped making Chinese flags for China's National Day, Oct. 1, and began working around the clock to fill the U.S. orders. "We've been presented with an opportunity to make a lot more money than we usually do making these flags," Wu Guomin, office director of the Shanghai Mei Li Hua Flags Co., told the Washington Post.

For the first time in the history of the Internet, popular search engines reported that "sex" dropped off their lists of top-10 search terms. In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, David Emanuel, spokesperson for the search engine AltaVista, noted that popular search terms "turned almost exclusively to disaster-related information." Perennial favorites Pamela Anderson Lee, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys were replaced by World Trade Center, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, American flag, FBI, Pentagon, American Airlines and American Red Cross. The search engine Google said the term seeing the biggest surge in popularity was Nostradamus, the 16th-century French astrologer who may or may not have predicted everything that has ever happened, including the Sept. 11 attacks.

Baltimore real estate developer Pat Turner announced he has scrapped plans for a disaster-theme restaurant. The $4.5 million "Crash Cafe" was to have included a huge DC-3 tail section sticking out over the entrance, while the plane's burning motor would have served as a fireplace on the outer deck. The crash motif was to have been incorporated throughout the 17,000-square-foot restaurant, with video screens showing train wrecks and building implosions. "I pulled the plug on it," Turner told the Baltimore Sun, indicating he plans to build something "more conventional" on the Inner Harbor site.

Show and Tell

The Catholic Church will use glass boxes instead of the traditional wooden confessional in all new churches in England and Wales. The change was recommended by a yearlong inquiry set up after 21 out of 5,600 Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of child abuse between 1995 and 1999. Confessor and priest will be visible during the act of contrition, although the booths will be soundproofed, according to a church spokesperson, who was unsure whether the confessionals in older churches would be modified but noted, "Nobody's going to want to voluntarily keep these potential time bombs."

Got to Get Away

An airplane belonging to a company in Key West, Fla., that specializes in "mile-high sex" crashed into the Florida Straits after a couple tried to hijack it to Cuba. Pilot Thomas P. Hayashi, who survived the crash and was rescued by the Coast Guard, told FBI agents that a Cuban man and woman in their 60s chartered the single-engine Piper Cherokee belonging to Fly Key West, which takes couples aloft so they can have sex. After the plane took off, Hayashi said the couple demanded that he fly to Cuba. He fought with the man, who fell into the plane's throttle, causing the crash. The couple's bodies were not recovered.

A man identified as John Reese, believed to be in his early 50s, had been taking flying lessons at a school in the Florida Keys for two weeks and was making his first solo flight in the traffic pattern when he reported he was afraid to land. According to Ute Steigerwald, vice president of Paradise Aviation in Marathon, Fla., Reese's instructor calmed him down and talked him into the final approach. As Reese neared the runway at about 100 feet altitude, Steigerwald said, "he made a turn over the ocean and never came back." Authorities said he turned up in Cuba, where he landed the single-engine Cessna upside down.


The British transit company Arriva North West in Merseyside spent $10.5 million to buy 70 new buses, which turned out to be an inch and a half too wide to fit through the toll booths at the tunnel from Liverpool to Birkenhead. The discrepancy was discovered by the first driver who tried to complete the route and had to take an 8-mile detour.

Unhappy Ending

When Kenneth Waters, 47, was sentenced to life in prison in 1983 for murder and armed robbery, his sister, Betty Ann Waters, a high school dropout, put herself through law school so she could help free her brother. After working on the case for years, she learned that a box of evidence with her brother's name on it was sitting in a courthouse basement. It contained the murder weapon and pieces of cloth with blood samples. DNA evidence cast doubt on Waters' conviction, and he was released in March. On Sept. 6, while walking home from dinner with his mother in Middletown, R.I., he took a shortcut and fell from a 15-foot wall. He fractured his skull and died two weeks later.

Double Duty

After customers complained about long waits to use the ladies' room at the Spareroom Cafe in Dudley, England, manager Doug Wilkinson added a second toilet to one of the stalls. "We weren't able to split the partition to create a third cubicle, so we put two toilets into one," Wilkinson said. "We haven't had any bad responses. We did a survey beforehand and found out that a lot of the time, women go to the loo in pairs anyway."

Compiled from the nation's press by Roland Sweet. Send original clippings, citing source and date, to P.O. Box 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

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