NewsQuirks 705 Year-end Review

The slumping economy, preparation for war with Iraq and the elections dominated media coverage this year. There were plenty of less noticed stories, however, which perhaps were even more indicative of what's really going on in, not just in the United States but the world over. Here are the quirkiest news dispatches that crossed our desk in 2002.

Asstrologist of the Year

Ulf Buck, 39, a blind German psychic, claimed to be able to tell people's futures by feeling their naked buttocks.

Chatterboxes

When Levi Strauss & Co. introduced a new line of its Dockers pants fitted with "anti-radiation" pockets for protection against cellphones, company spokesperson Cedric Jungpeter insisted, "We're not implying in any way that mobile phones are dangerous."

Japanese cell-phone maker NTT DoCoMo said it is developing a lip-reading phone to rid public places of noise caused by rude users shouting into handsets.

Curses, Foiled Again

Fugitive Michael LaRock, 22, eluded authorities for a year before calling police in Ticonderoga, N.Y., to boast that he would never be caught. He pointed out he would hang up within three minutes because he knew how phone numbers could be traced. He forgot about Caller ID, however. Police almost immediately tracked LaRock to a number in Auburn, Ga., and notified local police, who got the address from the number and arrested him. Los Angeles police arrested Tyrone Jermaine Hogan, 20, after he tried to carjack a vehicle carrying a judo club from Florida International University. Hogan jumped into their minivan at a gas station and started to drive off. The students piled on the suspect and hit him several times, then put him in a body hold until police arrived.

Adam J. Kelly Jr., 34, an employee of the Dragon Garden Chinese Restaurant in Houma, La., broke into the restaurant after it had closed but found the owner and another worker still inside. He grabbed a meat cleaver and threw it at them, causing minor injuries but leaving himself without a weapon. The victims grabbed Kelly, pounded him with a chair and a pipe, then called the police.

Federal agents in San Antonio, Texas, arrested Humberto Perez, 31, for falsely claiming that his truck was stolen and receiving cash for a new one after he called a radio show to brag about the crime. FBI agent Steve McGraw was listening to the Spanish-language program "What Is Your Biggest Lie?" when the caller recounted details of his scam. He also supplied the time and place of the incident, enabling McGraw to check stolen vehicle reports and identify Perez.

When police showed up at a Boston pizza restaurant where two armed men were holding several employees hostage while waiting for the time lock on the safe to open, the gunmen ditched their weapons and pretended to be hostages. The real hostages quickly pointed them out. When police in Tulsa, Okla., chased burglary suspect Edward Jerome McBride, 37, to the Arkansas River, he jumped in hoping to evade capture. Instead, he drowned because his pockets were stuffed with jewelry, and he wouldn't let go of a duffel bag full of stolen goods that weighed nearly 50 pounds.

Altruists of the Year

Workers at Romania's ARO Campulung car factory volunteered to help the plant erase its $20 million debt by selling sperm after they learned that a fertility clinic in Timisoara was offering donors $50 a visit. Trade union leader Ion Cotescu hailed the solution as "one that even the best economists have never thought of."

When Guns Are Outlawed

Authorities in Madeira Beach, Fla., charged Frank J. Ashmus, 46, with stabbing Garth Spacek, 42, in the stomach with the bill of a swordfish after an argument.

Pig and a Poke

Keaton Lynch Brown, 18, a contestant in Georgetown College's "Belle of the Blue" beauty and scholarship pageant, told police that Kathy Wallace, director of student activities at the Lexington, Ky., school, attacked her during a pageant rehearsal because her talent presentation included a lasso demonstration that ended with her roping a stuffed pig. "There was some controversy," fellow contestant Suzanne Lunsford, 20, said, "over whether her talent was ladylike."

Cover-Up

Workers had already built two sections of a new 7,500-foot runway at Tokyo's Narita international airport when local farmers refused to sell land located at what was to have been the center. Airport officials lengthened one completed strip by 2,400 feet and abandoned the other. To prevent planes from mistakenly landing on the 1,290-foot-long unusable section, the New Tokyo International Airport Authority covered the concrete strip with green paint and camouflage netting to make it look like a field.

Optimists of the Year

Twenty-six banks and credit unions banks in the Springfield, Mo., area decided to combat a rise in robberies by posting signs at their 141 locations in the Ozarks asking visitors to remove their hats and sunglasses as they enter to make identification easier.

Official Findings

After the body of University of Colorado at Davis student Andrew Wieman was found in his fraternity house bedroom with 29 stab wounds, Yolo County coroner's officials concluded that the wounds were self-inflicted and ruled the death a suicide.

Second-Amendment Follies

Police in Largo, Fla., said that 300-pound Clinton H. Williams, 39, died while sitting on his couch when his weight caused a .45-caliber handgun that he kept hidden in the cushions to fire accidentally. Police in Colorado Springs, Colo., reported that a suspect who was running away from an officer attempted to fire a gun at the officer. He shot himself in the face.

Kimberly Fennessey saw her friend Anthony Milazzo cleaning his .22-caliber pistol at his home in Bryan, Texas, and asked to see if it worked. Milazzo suggested she test it by firing at a Teflon-coated frying pan. The bullet ricocheted off the pan and struck her in the head. Robert E. Slay Sr., 55, accidentally shot himself in the leg while trying on pants at an outlet store in Gonzales, La., when a .38-caliber derringer fell out of his hip pocket and discharged.

Role Model

After inviting former Suffolk, Va., businessman Mark Grethen, 44, to Washington, D.C., to accept a Republican of the Year award, GOP officials quickly rescinded the invitation when they learned that Grethen is serving a 26-year prison sentence for sex crimes involving children.

United We Stand

New York authorities charged 22 people with falsely reporting the deaths of family members in the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks to try to collect more than $760,000 in government and private relief funds. Leading the fraud perpetrators was a Lansing, Mich., man who collected $272,000 after reporting that his brother had been at a meeting at the World Trade Center. In fact, the brother never existed.

City prosecutors also indicated that as many as 4,000 municipal workers used automated teller machines to steal $15 million from their credit union after its computer system was damaged in the attacks. As word of the computer glitch spread, the suspects repeatedly withdrew as much as $500 a day from ATMs, even if their accounts didn't have the money, including one woman who took out $18,000 more than she had in her account.

Fifth-Commandment Follies

Allan O'Keefe III, 45, received 90 days in prison for selling all his parents' possessions while they were out of the country on an extended business trip. "We had given Allan everything growing up," said the man's mother, Carol O'Keefe, "and he left us with nothing."

Silver Lining

Researchers at Belgium's Royal Observatory said that global warming is going to make days longer, adding a millionth of a second over the course of a year.

Slightest Provocations

Authorities in Johnson County, Texas, charged Clayton Frank Stoker, 21, with fatally shooting Johnny Joslin, 20, while the two men argued over who would go to heaven and who was going to hell. Police charged Kevin E. French, 45, of Horseheads, N.Y., with shooting his neighbor Nicholas Lanzillotto, 53, because he was upset over how often Lanzillotto mowed his lawn. Police in Mansfield Township, N.J., charged Emmanuel Nieves, 23, with using a knife to slash his friend, Erik Saporito, 21, after the two men argued over which one of them had the hairiest butt.

Litigation Nation

Laren Sims, 36, a murder suspect who hanged herself while being held in a Hernando County, Fla., jail, left a suicide note asking her lawyer to sue the jail because it failed to prevent her from killing herself. Richard Goddard Jr. and David Winkleman sued Davenport, Iowa, radio station KORB after they had the station's logo permanently tattooed across their foreheads expecting to receive $150,000. Instead, they learned the offer by disc jockey Benjamin Stomberg was a joke.

Bad Vibes

Voters in Sausalito, Calif., rejected a proposal to build a $7.8 million police and fire building after a citizens group complained that the facility would destroy the appearance of the city and violate its feng shui, or harmonious energy flow. "Harmony is important in Sausalito," Mayor J.R. Roberts said.

Land of the Setting Sun

Six Japanese high school students were disqualified from a judo tournament in Utsunomiya because their shaved eyebrows gave them an unfair advantage. "We have banned thin eyebrows because they are intimidating to opponents and cause displeasure," tournament organizer Tatsuo Kakizaki said. To help commuters relax during the summertime heat and humidity, the Japanese train company Fuji Kyuko began serving its Friday night passengers all the locally brewed beer they can drink during the two-hour trip, even though the trains have no restrooms.

Rescue Me

A 73-year-old woman spent 20 minutes trapped in a newspaper vending machine outside a Wal-Mart store in Geneseo, Ill., because no one would put 50 cents in the machine to unlock the spring-loaded mechanism that was holding her.
A woman in Montebello, Colo., phoned for help when tumbleweeds piled up 16 feet high against the door to her home. Four firefighters took 30 minutes to clear a 25-foot path through the tumbleweeds, which were mostly about 3 feet in diameter and filled the yard. "We probably moved 200 tumbleweeds, and there were thousands there," Lt. Angela Cook of the Denver Fire Department said. "We barely made a dent."

What's on Your Mind?

Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told airline security specialists that the agency is developing brain-monitoring devices that could be used to read the minds of airline travelers "to detect passengers who potentially might pose a threat."

Side Effects

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta credited catalytic converters, which are designed to convert automobile exhaust into harmless gases, for the decline in the number of people who killed themselves by inhaling carbon monoxide from automobiles from 10 per million in 1975 to 4.9 per million last year.

Candid Camera

Police in Brighton Township, Pa., arrested Donald W. Barto, 53, for secretly videotaping his wife and children for nearly eight years.

Get the Message?

AT&T Universal Card Services responded to a credit card application from Dallas Hill Jr. of Telford, Tenn., by sending him 2,986 letters of rejection.

Off-Road Adventure

Lon Ungerman, 48, of Grand Junction, Colo., caused more than $60,000 in damages after he ran into three houses and through two fences while trying to back out of his driveway. After one homeowner confronted Ungerman and told him he needed to drive forward, Ungerman said he thought he had been going forward.

Wide Loads

After losing 800 pounds over the past 10 years, Jeanette Standard of Pendleton, Ore., declared that she is grateful to weigh just 435 pounds. "I can go to Wal-Mart and buy clothes off the rack," the 5-foot-2 woman said after surgeons removed 110 pounds of lap that hung down to her shins. "And I can go out with pride without worrying about people saying, 'Look at that fat person.'"

Science to the Rescue

An Osaka university research team announced that it has "enhanced the healthful properties of pork fat by transplanting a spinach gene into a pig." Thailand said it hopes to reduce dependency on imported fossil fuels by turning the excrement of its prison population into energy. North Korea's government awarded its top science prize to an herbal medicine for constipation that combines marijuana and rhubarb. Traffic engineers, anticipating that drivers will be confused by a 9-mile elevated, reversible-lanes bridge connecting Brandon and Tampa, Fla., scheduled to open in 2004, announced they will install a giant net to snare errant vehicles. The device, dubbed the Dragnet, will be similar to equipment used on aircraft carriers to prevent landing planes from overshooting the carrier deck.

In case a comet or asteroid ever threatens to collide with Earth, Oklahoma State University scientist Hermann Burchard recommended sending spacecraft to inflate a giant bag several miles wide to deflect the heavenly menace gently but still keep it intact. Calling his idea "safe, simple and realistic idea," Burchard conceded that details still have to be worked out, including the material to use for the cosmic air bag.

Out on a Limb

Two days before Rodolfo Hernandez, 52, was scheduled to be executed in Huntsville, Texas, state prison officials turned down his request for an artificial leg. He had told them he wanted to "walk like a man" to the death chamber.

Trash Talking

The Taiwanese city of Tainan equipped its garbage trucks with loudspeakers to teach citizens English while picking up their trash. "Even grandmothers and grandfathers will be able to speak the most basic conversational English after listening for a few dozen times," Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair said, crediting his wife with the idea. "This is Tainan's first step toward internationalization."

Irony Illustrated

Susie Stephens, 36, regarded as the world's leading expert on road safety, was attending a conference in St. Louis on how to cut road deaths when she dashed across a street and was killed when a tour bus struck her.

The Last Laugh

Deciding to play a joke on his wife, Jeffrey Price Barber, 44, smeared ketchup all over himself, grabbed his .22-caliber rifle, fired a shot and lay down on the floor of their home in Richburg, S.C. His wife heard the shot, found his body and called 911. When sheriff's deputies responded, Barber explained what had happened, but they checked, found out that he had a police record and arrested him for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Waste Not, Want Not

The Saskatoon Star Phoenix reported that drug-addicted women at a Saskatchewan jail were drinking each other's vomit to get high off methadone administered by the jail.

Bad News for Picnics

Scientists discovered a supercolony of ants stretching almost 4,000 miles from the Italian Riviera along the coastline to northwest Spain.

Only the Lonely

People who watch certain television programs think they have more friends than they actually do, according to a study by sociologist Satoshi Kanazawa of Indiana University. He said the brain's mechanisms for recognizing friends evolved long before TV was developed, so the subconscious mind regards any face it sees regularly as a real-life friend, even if it's on TV.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Thud and Thud

Rear wheels fell off Baltimore city buses once in January, three times in February, twice in March, four times in April and six times in May. Some of the runaway 200-pound wheels rolled into cars, buildings and a natural-gas tank, which ruptured and leaked. After transit officials announced they had taken steps to solve the problem by retrofitting 400 buses with new equipment and revised maintenance standards, one of them lost two rear wheels.

Easy Money

Coinstar, a 10-year-old company in Bellevue, Wash., whose machines charge 8.9 percent to count people's loose change, projected its second-quarter earnings at $36.5 million.

Better Red Than Dead

Hoping to reduce the number of koalas killed by cars each year, authorities in the Australian shire of Redland began painting dead koalas red and leaving them beside the road to alert motorists to drive more carefully.

In Columbus's Wake

Spanish count Alvaro de Marichalar Saenz de Tejada became the first person to cross the Atlantic on a personal watercraft, making the 5,200-mile journey from Rome to Miami in 117 days aboard a 9-foot Bombardier Sea-Doo.

Peerless Panels

Charged with possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, Roderick B. Carter, 24, won a new trial in Miami after his lawyer argued that too many potential jurors had last names starting with the letter "G." The second jury acquitted Carter.

Heads Up

After Lithuania took a 1-0 lead against Germany in a European under-21 soccer championship-qualifying match, the Germans bounced back to a 4-1 win. Three of Germany's goals were scored by Lithuania's players, including two from Gerdas Aleksa, who struck the ball past his own goalkeeper.

Tell the Truth

When Christopher Whelan, 28, called 911 to report that he had stabbed his 60-year-old mother to death at their home in Bucks County, Pa., he noticed she was still squirming and groaning. He interrupted the call, picked up the knife and finished the job.

Driven to Distraction

Iris Jazmin Rangel, 24, pleaded guilty in Tucson, Ariz., to causing the death of her 10-month-old daughter. Rangel was breast-feeding the infant while driving her pickup truck when she rear-ended another vehicle that stopped abruptly. The truck's air bag inflated, striking the baby.

Every Lynch Mob Needs a Dictionary

Police in south Wales confirmed that vandals attacked the home of Dr. Yvette Cloete because they confused her professional title, pediatrician, with the word pedophile.

Tell It Like It Is

Evangelist Orlando Bethel followed other ministers to the microphone at his wife's uncle's funeral in Loxley, Ala., but instead of echoing their assurances that the deceased had gone to a better place, he declared that Devan Taylor, 56, had gone to hell. Glenita Andrews, a cousin of Taylor's, said, "Orlando and Devan had some problems."

Positive Energy

Italian priests at a Milan church noticed when a young South American couple started sitting in front of a Madonna statue for an hour each day before silently departing. The priests assumed the couple was seeking spiritual guidance until they discovered that the visitors were using the electrical outlet used to light up the Madonna to charge their cell phone.

Bucket Brigade

Twice in June, firefighters in Washington, D.C., had to resort to borrowing ordinary garden hoses to battle house fires because their official equipment was inoperative.

Auto Erotica

When Ontario police stopped a car south of Barrie, the officer said he was "astonished" to discover that the couple was having sex while they were driving.

Election Follies

More than 27,000 people voted for former Ohio Rep. James A Traficant Jr., who ran his re-election campaign from a Pennsylvania prison cell, where he is serving eight years for bribery and racketeering. Montana Republican Mike Taylor announced he was quitting his race against Democratic Sen. Max Baucus because a Democratic Party commercial implied he was a gay hairdresser. The ad used footage from a Colorado TV beauty program that Taylor hosted in the 1980s, showing him massaging another man's face. Another of Baucus's opponents, Libertarian Stan Jones, 63, turned blue during the campaign. He said his new skin color resulted from taking colloidal silver, a natural anti-bacterial supplement, in 1999 because he feared that year-2000 disruptions might lead to a shortage of antibiotics.

Ultimate Protection

The Uttar Pradesh Cow Protection Commission, a Hindu nationalist group, began advising people to smear themselves with cow dung in the event of a nuclear war, insisting that it will protect them against radiation. The group also recommends daubing buildings with dung for protection against fallout.

Fatherland Security

German security officials at Berlin's Tegel airport detained a passenger aboard a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt when he emerged from the lavatory. "He was on the toilet for quite some time," Lufthansa representative Thomas Jachnow said. "That was enough reason to alert the federal border police."

Chow Down

The New Jersey medical company Transneuronix developed an electric shock device intended to control appetites. The implant zaps the stomach with a tiny 10-milliampere current for 2 seconds, 12 times a minute, slowing down peristalsis to control hunger and restricting the amount of food that enters and leaves the stomach. The company said that the device can be switched on whenever a patient feels the urge to binge or left on all the time. Scientists announced the discovery of an enzyme in muscle that, when activated, can mimic the effects of exercise. Lead researcher R. Sanders Williams of Duke University suggested that the finding could one day lead to "exercise in a bottle" pills.

Guilty with an Explanation

When Charles Digiglio, 34, pleaded guilty to crashing into a school bus in Jim Thorpe, Pa., he explained that he had fallen asleep at the wheel because he worked late the night before making counterfeit checks. Theodore Maher, 44, admitted setting a fire that killed two people in Monaco but insisted that the deaths would have been averted if police had not blocked firefighters from trying to rescue the victims.

You Snooze, You Lose

Refco Group, a Chicago futures trading firm, fired two clerks whose job was to sort completed orders after the Chicago Sun-Times published a photograph of them sleeping at their desks just a few feet from frantic trading in a stock index futures pit at the Chicago Board of Trade. Nearby, paper streamed from a printer onto the floor.

Sky-High Antics

Weeks after introducing its newest planes, the $200 million Airbus A340-600, Virgin Airlines said it is having to replace plastic tables intended for changing diapers in its "mother and baby room" because passengers have broken them while having sex on them.

It's Not Unusual

Singer Tom Jones complained that even though women still throw their underwear at him, it usually hasn't been worn. When the tradition began in the 1960s, Jones said, "the whole thing was authentic. Nowadays they bring along a plastic bag with their underwear in it."

Got to Admit It's Getting Better

On Nov. 4, officials lowered the death toll from the Sept. 11, 2001, collapse of New York's World Trade Center to 2,795 after locating five persons who had been reported missing and feared dead and discovering one victim who had been listed twice. The initial estimate had been more than 6,000 deaths.

Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press.

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