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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

In November, Seattle hosted a two-day euthanasia technology conference in which various techniques and products were presented. A man from Vancouver, British Columbia, submitted the most promising invention, the "debreather." The device's mask and hose run to a jar containing an unidentified substance that supposedly makes death from lack of oxygen "quick and painless" because it filters out carbon dioxide, thus preventing the body's natural panic reflex.

In a November raid on a warehouse used by Rio de Janeiro's most prominent drug and money-laundering gang, police discovered and confiscated hundreds of copies of a CD, Prohibited Rap, which the gang's neighborhood lieutenants had intended as Christmas presents for their best cocaine customers. Lamented one gang member, "We were trying to do something special. What are we going to give our people now?"

The Times of London reported in December that shopkeeper Samantha Munns of Cheltenham, England, fell on the nozzle of a helium tank for inflating balloons, puncturing her thigh. Within seconds, gas entered the subcutaneous tissue in her leg and abdomen, causing them to swell to twice their normal size. Munns's physician said she could find only one similar case in medical textbooks and prescribed rest to let the gas dissipate.

Recent Strandings

In Olean, New York, in July, Robert Fyfe, 44, fell into a silt and mud pit at a gravel company and could not free himself for 60 hours. In Raritan Township, New Jersey, Jim Kahlke, 36, was locked in an ATM vestibule on Thanksgiving night and wasn't discovered until a bank employee arrived for work the next morning. Also in November a 13-year-old car-theft suspect was left alone all weekend in an Indianapolis courthouse holding cell after a bailiff forgot about him.

Awesome, Dude!

Pumpkin farmer Hugh Mommsen of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, told a reporter on the Halloween beat that he was ready to upgrade his pumpkin catapult, which can send a 30-pound pumpkin 150 feet up and 400 feet out, to the even more powerful pumpkin cannon. Mommsen noted, however, that the amount of splattering depends not only on the force of impact but also on the variety of pumpkin.

In July, Michael Adams, 13, got his arm caught in an irrigation machine while working alone on his family's alfalfa farm near Crane, Oregon, and watched as the arm was severed just above the elbow. He picked up the arm, walked 100 yards to a vehicle, and drove to find help. Unable to steer well, he crashed, but he walked to another vehicle, drove to a friend's home, and comforted his distraught parents when they arrived. The arm was reattached, and Michael is doing fine.

Chutzpah!

Inmate Timothy Marshall, 39, recently petitioned a Florida judge to release him early in 2000, as per the terms of his 1985 15-year sentence for cocaine trafficking. Marshall, who escaped in 1987 and was recaptured only two years ago, now accuses the state of "wrongfully refusing to give him credit" for time served while on the run. His petition was denied.

In September, Alexander J. Blastos, 34, was arrested in Florida and charged with writing a bad check for $9,600 to cover the cost of a private jet flight to Keene, New Hampshire, to his court date on federal wire-fraud charges. However, New Orleans check-forgery defendant Keefe Anderson, 34, managed to post bail in October with a forged check. The judge also accepted without investigation Anderson's bail petition with bogus addresses. Anderson, who police said is also a murder suspect, immediately skipped town.

Leading Economic Indicators

Russia's venerable National Philharmonic Orchestra, touring Great Britain in November with almost no financial support from the homeland, was forced to play for spare change outside a McDonald's restaurant in Swansea, Wales, taking in about $32.

Authorities in Tokyo began investigating the giant finance company Nichiei in November after two debtors reported being pressured by Nichiei loan managers to sell their kidneys and other body parts to meet payment schedules. According to a separate lawsuit, another employee demanded a debtor sell his daughter into prostitution. The company is the country's leading lender to small businesses.

Twenty-eight of Warsaw's 42 public rest rooms in prime locations were leased in early 1999 to private companies on the condition that they renovate and maintain the toilets. According to an August Associated Press dispatch, a variety of small shops are now operating out of the facilities, including taverns, a veterinary clinic, and even a restaurant.

Sometimes They Really Are Innocent

Enrique Salinas, 37, was arrested in Detroit in September on a New Mexico shoplifting warrant, held 38 days, then transferred to a Santa Fe jail; authorities have now decided they had the wrong Enrique Salinas: both men were born on the same day in 1962 and have a similar facial scar. And Los Angeles County agreed in December to pay Ray Nugent $150,000 for wrongly jailing him in 1988 (and again on the same warrant in 1993) on armed robbery charges; authorities have since concluded that the robbery was committed by Ray's evil twin brother, Jay Nugent, who is believed to be hiding in Canada.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: Amateur videographers who hide cameras to capture their subjects nude and/or in intimate situations, such as whoever installed the two video cameras in a men's shower room at Yosemite National Park in July. And animal hoarders, usually women with dozens or hundreds of cats, such as the three separate women this year in Edmonton, Alberta; a woman in Pittsburgh in December (who stored feces in animal carriers); and another in Saint Anthony, Minnesota, in August (270 rabbits and "knee-deep" feces).

Do the Crime, End Your Time

Shoplifters Malcolm Sloan, 27 ($68 designer shirt), and Ryan M. Keyes, 18 (loot unreported), led police in foot chases in Warwick, Rhode Island, in September and Pittsburgh in June, respectively. The Sloan chase ended when he was fatally hit by a truck while crossing a street; the Keyes chase ended when he drowned in the Allegheny River.

In the Last Month

An unarmed bomb fell off an F-16 flying over a Phoenix golf course, making divots over a 300-yard swath. In Twentynine Palms, California, a depressed 16-year-old boy who said he didn't want to talk to anyone showed up at school with his lips stitched together. In Saint Paul a 48-year-old ex-cop who played "Officer Friendly" in schools was convicted of indecent exposure in a shopping mall. Two inmates who escaped from a prison in Tanzania soon gave up after being forced up a tree by lions. The $30,000 Presidents Pace horse race in Edmonton, Alberta, was won by the favorite, Clintons [sic] Cigar.

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/Shawn Belshwender.

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