The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported in May that of more than 10,000 households in Grand Forks, North Dakota, only 946 were covered by flood insurance when the recent floods hit. Four months earlier, FEMA had issued numerous advisories about imminent danger from flooding and spent $300,000 on a media campaign about ominous snow-melting conditions, but ultimately persuaded only 73 Grand Forks home owners to buy policies.
Dueling misjudgments: In April the New York City Art Commission approved a small plaque on an entrance marker to the Children's Zoo in Central Park thanking philanthropists Edith and Henry Everett for their $3 million gift earmarked for renovations. The Everetts complained that the plaque was too small and rescinded the donation.
A member of the Mug House Players pub darts team in Worcester, England, commenting in February on his team's 50-match losing streak, said, "I think we all drink too much [during the matches]. One regular feature [of our games] is to miss the board completely."
In January Fernando Magana-Rodriguez, 24, pleaded not guilty to bigamy in Kelowna, British Columbia, saying, "I'm Mexican. I never knew you could go to jail for marrying two women or I never would have done it."
In March John H. Bergantini, a candidate for the office of tax assessor in Exeter, Rhode Island, brushed off the fact that he is being sued by the town for $2,678 in back property taxes by explaining, "My ability to write a check for a certain amount of money has nothing to do with [my ability to judge] how much a piece of property is worth."
Assemblywoman Susan John of Rochester, New York, who is the chair of the Assembly's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Committee, commenting on her guilty plea in March for driving while impaired, remarked, "This will give me additional insights into the problem of drinking and driving, and I believe will allow me to do my job even more effectively."
Kevin A. Thompson, 37, an elementary school principal in Owatonna, Minnesota, was charged in January with peeping into the window of a home and was apprehended hiding under the deck of another house. According to police, Thompson said he was merely checking street addresses in connection with the redrawing of school bus boundaries.
Public television's Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, has denied that he sexually molested any of the five men who have filed complaints against him since January for fondling them as boys. One of the men, Keith Thomas, who worked for Smith in the 70s as part of a high school work-study program, said at the time he had shrugged off Smith's hugs and kisses as "weird, but [I thought] maybe that's the way it is with people in the food business."
Least Competent People
In January the Berlingske Tidende of Denmark reported that an unidentified man drove his car onto the ice at the Augustenborg Fjord, 120 miles south of Copenhagen, breaking through the ice and sinking the car. The man managed to escape in the shallow water and minutes later attempted to cross the fjord in a four-wheel drive vehicle, with the same result. He tried it twice more with two tractors, both of which sank. It took rescuers seven hours to pull the four vehicles out.
Daniel Sutherland of Indiana, Pennsylvania, accidentally shot himself in the mouth in February while he was blowing down the barrel of a gun to see whether it was loaded. Said Sutherland to a reporter, "You know that hanging-down thing in the back of your mouth [the uvula]? I lost mine."
In February, according to a police report in the Journal-Bulletin of Providence, Rhode Island, a man wearing a flowered dress, swearing, and making obscene gestures was subdued by police only after he had made their job easier by accidentally running into a car and a brick wall. He tried to escape at the police station but wound up colliding with a wall in a stairwell.
In March, according to Gary Gerhardt, the owner of County Lanes bowling alley in Bozeman, Montana, a man walked in, told the cashier he had just gotten out of prison for having robbed the alley several years before, and said he would like to look around inside the ceiling to see if he could find the wallet he had dropped during the job. When Gerhardt ordered him to leave, the man just shrugged and walked away.
Brothers Patrick and Daniel Worthing were charged in December with attempted corporate espionage. Patrick, a supervisor for a cleaning contractor working for PPG Industries in a suburb of Pittsburgh, allegedly offered to sell PPG corporate secrets to its competitor, Owens Corning, in a letter full of misspellings and grammatical errors. According to the prosecutor, Patrick had included PPG's financial statements, asked only $1,000 for all the information Owens Corning could use, and gave PPG's fax number for any return calls. At his first court appearance Patrick asked the magistrate, "If we, like, fully cooperate with all the details, is there, like, a lesser sentence?"
Extremely Forgetful People
Cleveland county clerk Gordana Giovinale was suspended for three days in April as punishment for leaving a bag filled with $65,000 in tax money and fee receipts in the rest room stall she was using. After finishing she apparently forgot that she had been headed to another office to drop off the money. And in April Mike Shreckengost appeared in court in Somerset, Pennsylvania, to reclaim the $20,000 that he had tossed onto the side of a road in February 1996 as a state trooper approached his stopped car. He drove off without the money and made no inquiries about what had happened to it until he heard in August of that year that the trooper was claiming the money under a "finders keepers" law.
Capital of Bad Relationships
In March police learned that Jodi Denman Cecconi of Carrollton, Georgia, had faked the death of her two-year-old daughter. Cecconi had claimed that the child suffered from leukemia and went as far as holding hospital vigils, making funeral arrangements, selecting a grave site, and putting an obituary in the newspaper, all to win back her estranged boyfriend, Neal Casey, who believed the story before learning that the child was alive and in good health. The next month Carrollton country-music radio station manager Amy Bullington, 23, charged with shooting her boyfriend to death, surrendered to police after airing her favorite song, "Has Anybody Seen Amy?"
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.