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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

In November in Tokyo, Tomomi Okawa, 25, rammed her car into a concrete pole, resulting in the death of a passenger. According to police, Okawa missed hitting the brake pedal because of her clunky platform shoes. And in September, schoolteacher Misayo Shimizu, 25, died from a skull fracture several hours after toppling over in her five-inch-heel platform shoes.

Patrick Corp, 24, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in November and will be recommended for a federal prison sentence: although his 17-year-old girlfriend is past the age of consent to have sex in Michigan, she is too young to be photographed while doing so. In Canada, photographer Gary Geisel, 56, is fighting the same battle: Canada's age of consent is 14, but in Manitoba and other provinces it's illegal for people younger than 18 to be photographed in sexual situations.

1999 Election Roundup

Pro wrestler Jerry "the King" Lawler finished third in Memphis's mayoral race with 11 percent of the vote, and pro wrestler Outlaw Josey Wales IV finished third in Houston's with 10 percent. David W. Irons Jr. won a county council seat in Seattle, beating his sister Di, who had the support of their parents. Eugene Reppenhagen beat his ex-wife Carol for a seat on the town council of Gloversville, New York. Levi Levy, 67, lost all five seats he ran for this year in Fairfax County, Virginia. And African-American Albert Jones finished third in the Louisiana governor's race, six weeks after ballot officials rejected his request to list himself as Albert "Super Nigger" Jones.

Cultural Diversity

The German supreme court ruled in August that the lifetime guarantee offered by U.S. clothing retailer Lands' End is illegal in that country because it is "economically unfeasible" and therefore is unfair competition. Previously the Zippo and Tupperware companies had to eliminate their lifetime guarantees to do business in Germany.

Latest rumors: The Cambodian government had to calm widespread fears in June that evil spirits surrounding the royal family had demanded the souls of longhaired women, setting off a surge of hair sacrifices around the royal palace intended to pacify the demons. And in August several female hitchhikers in Zimbabwe were injured leaping from speeding cars because they believed a rumor about drivers forcing women to breast-feed large frogs to attain prosperity.

In July the Bangladesh Acid Survivors Foundation sponsored the return to Dhaka of six young women who had received plastic surgery abroad; they'd been disfigured when the men they were supposed to marry threw sulfuric acid at them because the women's dowries were insufficient. The United Nations said there were 130 such attacks in 1997 and 200 in 1998.

In June a federal judge struck down an ordinance banning public dancing in the town of Pound, Virginia. (Previously a dance permit could be issued only to someone who was deemed "proper" and "of good moral character.") Said one city council member, explaining the old ordinance, "There's bound to be trouble when you mix drinking, country music, and dancing."

This summer the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times reported that in rural South Africa boys and girls as young as one year old are being tested for virginity in an effort to identify child abuse and venereal diseases and to discourage premarital sex. Girls have their hymens checked, but the tests for boys are more questionable, including pressing a soft spot on the knee (virgins' knees are supposed to be hard), examining genital-area skin (virgins' is supposed to be firm and tough), or urinating over a three-foot-high barrier (nonvirgins' urine supposedly sprays).

Hypocrisies

Teresa Heinz, wife of U.S. Senator John Kerry and generous donor to environmental organizations, installed what Idaho's leading green groups called an illegal well on her vacation retreat near Ketchum because, according to one critic, she needed a lot of water to maintain her five acres of Kentucky bluegrass. According to an October Boston Herald report, Heinz said she was forced to dig the well because state conservation officials denied her request to buy water rights to the Big Wood River in an expensive 1998 hearing.

Not practicing what they preach: Psychologist Michael Brooks, author of the book Instant Rapport, was arrested in July for illegally commandeering a first-class seat on a Continental airliner and not budging. In May, Earl L. "Butch" Kimmerling, who fought to prevent his nine-year-old foster daughter from being adopted by a gay couple, was arrested in Anderson, Indiana, and charged with molesting the girl. And in July federal authorities filed a lawsuit in Lake Worth, Florida, against a wheelchair store for failing to provide parking spaces for the disabled.

Surprise!

Two months after the Columbine High School massacre, police in Alvin, Texas, held a hostage-situation training exercise complete with gunfire at the local high school, sending 193 terrified kids and their teachers scrambling under desks. The two school officials informed about the exercise in advance thought it would be more low-key and didn't bother to tell anyone about it.

Update

Wayne Dumond made News of the Weird in 1988 when he won $110,000 in an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against an Arkansas sheriff; vigilantes had castrated Dumond, an alleged rapist, and the sheriff had displayed Dumond's genitals in a jar on his desk as a souvenir. Three governors (including Bill Clinton, who was a friend of the rape victim's mother) rejected DNA findings favorable to Dumond and gave in to protesters' demands that he stay in jail. Dumond, now 50, was released on parole in October of this year.

Undignified Death

In October a driver in the village of Tracadie Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada, lost control of a hearse and killed a 68-year-old pallbearer as he emerged from a funeral.

In the Last Month

A Las Vegas TV producer and photographer were fired for creating "on the scene" footage of October's California earthquake by rocking their video truck. In Bergen, Norway, a 29-year-old man who had just failed his driving test for the fourth time drove his car into the testing office, just missing the five examiners inside.

In Las Vegas, Frances and Harold Mountain squatted on a courtroom floor to divide up nearly 100 Beanie Babies, the last items of property to be settled before their divorce became final. A judge in Buenos Aires ruled that a husband's ignoring a toilet that had overflowed into the dining room could be grounds for divorce. Spain's governing sports organization ordered drug tests at a chess tournament on the island of Minorca.

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 Belschwender.

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