Newsquirks 653

Curses, Foiled Again

After Virginia's Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Paul Warner Powell, 23, for murder and rape, Powell wrote prosecutor Paul B. Ebert and taunted him for failing to make the sentence stick. But the court had set aside the death sentence only because Ebert had erred procedurally by connecting the two crimes against separate individuals instead of treating them separately. In his letter, Powell bragged in detail about attempting to sexually assault his murder victim. His statements link two crimes against the same individual, meaning that he again faces the death penalty. "His intent was to taunt and cause more pain," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James A. Willett, who is prosecuting the case, told The Washington Post. "The effect was a confession."

Driven to Distraction

When police in Swansea, Wales, observed Stuart MacNamara speeding and running a red light, they noticed he was holding his wireless phone to his ear. When they stopped him, they discovered that he only had one arm, the one holding the phone, having lost the other in an accident. Police Superintendent Richard Lewis said MacNamara was also well over the legal blood-alcohol limit.

When a sport-utility vehicle struck six pedestrians walking to a football game in Cincinnati, authorities found that the vehicle's owner, Frederick Shipman, 43, was too drunk to drive. He had handed over the wheel to his friend Darrin Stafford, 30, who is a paraplegic and unable to use his legs to operate the brake pedal. Stafford told police that he had been driving for about two hours, using the SUV's cruise-control feature on the highway, but was unable to stop in time to avoid the pedestrians.

Love Those In-Laws

Egyptian musician Mustafa Eid Samida, 70, claimed to have been married 203 times. The longest union lasted 10 years, the shortest a few hours. "I have never asked anybody for their hand," he told the Los Angeles Times. "They all wanted me."

Samida explained that most of his brides were women who had slept with men who were not their husbands. Islamic practice condemns sex out of wedlock but not divorce, so marrying and divorcing Samida provided documentation that effectively restored their honor. "Most of them needed me, and I stood by their side," he said. "What I did is a public service."

Get the Message

The Venice public transit company ACTV reported that someone sabotaged its ticket machines so they print swear words on tickets. A spokesperson said the company suspects an inside job.

Police in the English town of Barnsley received complaints that an experimental talking bus stop wouldn't stop repeating its recorded message. "We didn't know what to do," a police spokesperson said. "At first we thought it might be a hoax call when a man rang to say a bus stop was talking to him." After receiving several other calls, police notified the local transit authority, which investigated and found a power interruption may have caused the information intercom to short circuit.

Turn the Other Cheek

A 42-year-old Christian truck driver in Kano, Nigeria, accidentally backed into a group of Muslims studying the Koran. As the group fled, one of the students dropped a copy of the Muslim holy book, and the driver ran over it. The students dragged him out of his cab and beat him. He was taken to a police station for safety but was pulled out by a mob and killed.

A Little Too Realistic

For his role in a Halloween haunted hayride in Sparta, Mich., Caleb Rebh, 14, was in charge of a skeleton hanging by a noose from a tree. According to his mother, Rebh decided to make the attraction even scarier by replacing the skeleton with himself. The boy put the noose around his neck, but when he let go of the rope, he apparently was not heavy enough to prevent the branch from whipping back up and choking him to death.

Playing to the Stereotype

The Albuquerque Police Department reported that an officer and his civilian pilot were disciplined after they interrupted their early morning helicopter patrol over the city to land next to a Krispy Kreme store, run in and return with a dozen doughnuts.

Something's Fishy

Louisiana State University researcher Randy Price has devised a robot alligator to prevent pelicans from invading ponds used by fish farmers to raise catfish and crawfish. Supported by two polystyrene floats and propelled by two rotating paddles, the ersatz gator uses a video camera and simple image-processing software to detect birds. It then steers toward them, and if that doesn't chase them away, it opens fire with an onboard water canon.

It's Party Time

Ministry of Sound, one of the world's biggest dance music companies, has expressed interest in turning jets from the bankrupt Australian airline Ansett into airborne nightclubs. Richard Mergler, the company's commercial brand director, said the planes would be modified to recreate the nightclub experience and fly to dance parties in Australia and overseas. Australian Transport Minister and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson said he was uncertain about safety requirements for flying nightclubs.

The latest craze in Japan is lockup theme bars. Modeled on prisons, they require customers to be locked up in dingy cells while laboratory flasks and beakers let them mix their own cocktails while relaxing with cellmates. "We find the prison atmosphere really exciting, and the tension of being locked up seems to help us become drunk more quickly than usual," university student Kaio Ezwawa told the Tokyo Shinbun newspaper. "That makes us really popular with the guys. It's a win-win situation."

The Tavern pub in Stoneclough, England, claims to have the world's smallest dance floor. Measuring just three feet square, it's big enough for eight dancers -- although owners Carl Burgess and Nicola Kenny said the pub DJ asks people to dance one at a time. "There used to be a column in the middle of the pub," Burgess told the Bolton Evening News. "When we removed it, it left a square that was uncarpeted. We decided to turn it into a dance floor for a laugh."

Unexpected Reaction

When a Japanese police officer noticed a man trying to look up a woman's skirt at a train station in Kobe, the officer tried to question him. The peeper turned out to be a 52-year-old member of the Yamaguchi crime syndicate. He opened fire, injuring two officers before being subdued and arrested.

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

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