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Lead Stories

Over a six-day period in April, aerosol cockroach foggers accidentally ignited in three separate homes, blowing out windows and causing other damage. In Los Angeles and Trenton, New Jersey, residents were severely burned; the incident in San Diego caused $50,000 worth of damage to the home, but there were no reported injuries (cockroaches included).

Three deceased city aldermen and a dog were among those registered to vote last month in Saint Louis's mayoral primary. And in November 2000 a judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs who wanted the polls kept open late because crowding and poor record keeping were preventing them from voting; the court later discovered that the lead plaintiff had been dead for a year.

The city of Seattle recently agreed to pay Kathy Harris $180,000 to take her blind and autistic 16-year-old son out of the school system. The boy is so violent that he was being kept in a padded room, yet the law requires the school district to provide an education to any "special needs" student who requests it until he is 21, regardless of the cost.

People Different From Us

In April a Ralphs Supermarket in Livermore, California, promised a free ham to anyone buying $50 worth of groceries, but 33-year-old Rachael Cheroti raised such a fuss when her total came to only $48 that the manager gave her one too. According to police reports, Cheroti then demanded even more hams, arguing that she spent a great deal of money at Ralphs every month. After the manager declined, Cheroti allegedly pinned him against the wall with a shopping cart, wrestled with him on the floor, and struggled with a police officer before being arrested. The officer suffered a hand injury and was placed on medical leave.

Things You Thought Didn't Happen Anymore

In March police in the District of Columbia told the U.S. Marshals Service that a superior court judge might need protection after he was "hexed" by the friends of a drug dealer....In February the Secret Service investigated an editor at State University of New York at Stony Brook who had written a column asking Jesus Christ to "smite" President Bush....And in January the governor of Bangkok recited a "curse" against police officers who had ignored his order to stop extorting money from street vendors.

Crises in the Workplace

In March the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of Carolyn Humphries, who had been fired by Modesto Memorial Hospital in Modesto, California. Invoking the Americans With Disabilities Act, Humphries argued that her obsessive-compulsive disorder prevents her from working a set schedule: the hospital told her she could create her own shift, but she sometimes spends hours grooming herself for work and on occasion isn't ready to leave home until her shift has ended.

According to an Associated Press report from Katmandu in March, Buddhist officials in Nepal are having trouble recruiting five-year-old girls to serve as official goddesses. Such girls live in palaces and are waited on hand and foot, and tutors are not permitted to make them study. Yet the position ends at puberty, and after being sheltered and pampered in their early years the girls are often unprepared for the rest of their lives. Worse yet, legend has it that men who marry ex-goddesses die young.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in Beppu City, Japan, chemical and hormone tests are eliminating the highly skilled occupations of chicken-sexers, who can identify a chick's gender by touching a specific muscle in its underbelly (in females the muscle is smaller). Last year's chicken-sexing champion was Junichi Goto, who sorted a hundred chicks in 3 minutes, 34 seconds.

The Litigious Society

In 1989, 96 soccer fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England; in March the Guardian reported that a police officer who had worked at the site in 1998 received a disability settlement of about $560,000 from the government because he had suffered posttraumatic stress by imagining the earlier carnage. According to the paper, that figure is more than 100 times what any of the victims' families received.

In February a jury in Sydney, Australia, awarded Dr. Paul Hogan about $1.25 million (U.S.) for injuries he said he suffered in 1984 while studying at Saint John's College. Hogan says he was hit with a strap eight times as punishment, and some of the blows landed on his hand, which he says still hurts (though no abnormality is present in X rays). His award breaks down to about $156,000 for each blow.

Least Competent People

In March, Dr. Craig DuMond was dismissed from a medical center at Saranac Lake, New York, after mistakenly operating on the wrong knee of a patient. Five years earlier, after DuMond had operated on the wrong hip of another patient, the medical center initiated a safety procedure that required its staff to write "yes" on the correct body part, but in the second incident DuMond operated on a part that had not been marked. The medical center now requires its staff to also write "no" on body parts that will not be operated on.

The Only Way Out

In March, Su Chun-min immolated himself in P'ingtung County, Taiwan. According to his family, he was worried about the space station Mir falling to Earth....A week earlier a middle-aged man fatally poisoned himself in Umuahia, Nigeria, because Nigeria failed to beat Ghana in their World Cup qualifying match on March 10....And in December, Dennis R. Larson, who was serving 50 years in Maine State Prison for pushing his third wife off a cliff, leaped to his death from a third-story window; officials said Larson had sealed his mouth with duct tape on which was written "Geronimo!"

In the Last Month

A holdup man in Wheeling, West Virginia, was foiled in his robbery of a sex shop because he had loaded his gun with the wrong caliber bullets....A high school teacher in Tampa, Florida, apparently behind on current events, assigned several students a class project in which they were to build a high-tech bomb....The city council president in Elizabeth, New Jersey, had a councilman handcuffed and arrested for interrupting her too often....And a man in New York City purposely contaminated a restaurant's salad bar with a spray mixture of human waste; police, hoping to close 12 similar cases, are running DNA tests on the waste to prove that it's his own.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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