In a kidnapping trial in San Mateo, California, in July, the 11-year-old victim was asked to identify the man who had abducted her. She gazed around the courtroom, past defendant John Paul Balocca and his counsel, and pointed to one of the jurors. Fortunately, Balocca had already confessed to the abduction; the purpose of the trial was to ascertain the degree of the crime. No charges were filed against the juror.
Murderer Joe Labriola, serving a life sentence in a Massachusetts prison, told the Boston Globe in August that he would very soon legally register an inmates' political action committee to dispense money to candidates and give the incarcerated a stronger voice in state elections. (Prisoners can vote in Massachusetts.) Said Labriola, "In the 70s, we thought we could make change [on prisoner issues] with violence," but now "we can make changes by using the vote."
The Litigious Society
Recent adulterated-food lawsuits: For a spider in a breakfast at a Denny's restaurant in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, a customer received a $1,500 settlement in April; in May a jury awarded $13,000 to someone who found a human fingertip in ham bought from the deli at a Publix supermarket in Tampa, Florida; for a cockroach in the collard greens at an Orangeburg, South Carolina, KFC in June, a customer received $607,500. On the other hand, a judge in San Luis Obispo, California, ruled in March that a mouse in Richard Lang's McDonald's hot apple pie had been inserted after the sale. Also in March, Michael Zanakis, 43, was indicted for extortion in Brooklyn, New York, for allegedly planting a rat's tail in his son's McDonald's Happy Meal and demanding $5 million.
Perennial candidate Thurman Jerome Hamlin, 73, of Kentucky has run for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as for governor and several other state offices, losing every time. In May he filed a federal class-action employment-discrimination lawsuit against the University of Kentucky because it failed to interview him when the position of men's basketball coach recently became available.
In July Misa Teresaka, 32, filed a lawsuit for about $130,000 against her personal trainer and the Discovery Bay health club in Hong Kong for injuries she suffered in 1995. She said the trainer encouraged her to continue to lift weights, despite severe backaches, and her career prospects are diminished because she can no longer bow.
In February in Montreal, the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel, an order of nuns in Chicoutimi, Quebec, filed a lawsuit against the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, an order of nuns in Quebec City, over a dispute about a $30 million investment in a shopping center.
Steven Weisblat of New City, New York, filed a lawsuit in April against a recently married Armenian-American couple in Hackensack, New Jersey, for various injuries incurred while he was a guest at their wedding. According to the lawsuit, the groom was tossed into the air by inebriated guests performing a traditional dance and landed on Weisblat, who wasn't even on the dance floor at the time.
James Van Gorder, 31, filed a lawsuit in August against the Parkway Chiropractic Center in Detroit for negligence during his recent treatment for back pain. According to Van Gorder, the chiropractor had him take off his clothes and lie facedown on a two-part examining table. When the chiropractor adjusted the table, Van Gorder's genitals got caught between the parts. He claims extreme pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of sexual desire.
Government in Action
In June, to publicize the fact that it would soon resume pickups of bulk trash--appliances, sofas, etc--which had been suspended for several months because of budget problems, the District of Columbia department of public works decided to make public service announcements showing crews at work. However, according to the Washington Business Journal, crews brought "fake" bulk trash into neighborhoods for filming, at additional cost, despite the fact that residents had a huge backlog of the same items that could have been used for free.
In March an abandoned 1974 Dodge Dart, which had been sitting on the side of U.S. 68 near Wilmore, Kentucky, since 1988, was finally removed. The state government and Jessamine County had each argued that removing it was the other's responsibility.
In July the Nova Scotia gaming control commission formally banned the popular charity fund-raiser "cow-patty bingo," in which a promoter marks a field into squares, takes bets, and then releases a recently fed cow to "select" a winning square. The commission believes the game can be rigged by training a cow to use a particular spot in the field.
In March a story in the San Jose Mercury News reported on the Defense Department's "micro air vehicles," some no larger than birds. The tiny flying machines, including one helicopter that can fit inside a peanut shell, are suited for tasks such as locating hostages in occupied buildings, sniffing out poisonous chemicals, and finding enemy snipers. Each micro air vehicle carries cameras, sensors, transmitters, and antennas.
A February New York Daily News story detailed NYPD procedures when a squad car needs a new tire. The officer must fill out a Tire Replacement Request form and send it to the Tire Integrity Unit, pick up a tire at a city vehicle maintenance facility, take it to a city-approved vendor to have it put on, take the old tire back to the police garage, and have the precinct commander sign the Tire Replacement Request form certifying that the new tire is actually on the car. In 1995, the last year for which figures were available, money spent paying officers while they had tires changed totaled $500,000.
News of the Weird themes update: Latest incident of a dog stepping on a gun and causing it to discharge and shoot the dog's owner, in Tacoma, Washington, in July; latest emphysema patient to die when he lit a cigarette and accidentally ignited his oxygen supply, in La Habra, California, in July; latest arson charges to be brought against a firefighter allegedly just trying to get some overtime pay, in Weiser, Idaho, in July; latest fatal beatings in Africa of so-called sorcerers who are suspected of making men's penises shrink or vanish with a mere handshake, in Dakar, Senegal, in August.
Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Shawn Belshwender.