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News of the Weird

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Lead Stories

Last month 40-year-old Joseph Chopnowski of Berlin, Connecticut, was charged with criminal mischief after items blocking a sewer line (newspapers, batteries, clothes, plastic bags, soda cans, a wrench) were traced back to his house. Neighbors reported that he often spent many hours a day working at the sewer "clean-out" in his front yard; apparently Chopnowski had been habitually flushing things down his toilet and then running huge amounts of water into the sewer to push them along.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish authorities ruled in October that their rabbis could not board airliners taking off from Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv unless they were hermetically sealed in body bags while the planes passed over the impure cemetery in Holon. For safety reasons El Al refused to permit such a procedure, but Swissair solved the problem by making a slight route adjustment to avoid the cemetery.

Last month a Pennsylvania jury awarded $2.9 million to state representative Jane Baker for head injuries suffered from a traffic accident that she says left her cognitively disabled. Baker, who told the jury she "needs help with reading and understanding material and carrying on conversations" and is "virtually unemployable," plans to run for a second term in 2002.

Wail, Britannia

In October a septuagenarian couple in Manchester, England, were admitted to Wythenshawe Hospital after overdosing on downers because, they said, their neighbors' kids had been behaving too rambunctiously....That same month a judge at Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court urged 75-year-old John Bushnell to relocate; for 40 years he'd been harassing his neighbors with epithets like "dying-looking git," "creepy-looking Jesus," and "humpty-backed bastard."...And the manager of a retirement home was convicted of gross negligence at Chelmsford Crown Court because, acting on her obsession with proper hydration, she sometimes poured massive amounts of water down residents' throats, which resulted in two deaths.

Family Values

In October the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal of naturists Robert and Christine Morton, who had been trying to overturn the rulings of Texas agencies that prohibit nude children at the clothing-optional park Hippie Hollow, near Austin. The agencies held that nude children at the park were especially vulnerable to voyeurs and pedophiles.

An October dispatch from the Associated Press reported that certain parents in Pittsburgh who feared the side effects of standard chicken pox immunizations had held "pox parties" for their kids, at which one infected child would be mingled with others so that all of them would get the disease and acquire lifetime immunity.

In August in Tylertown, Mississippi, 66-year-old David Earl King and his 32-year-old son, Nathan Paul King, received prison sentences of 36 years and 18 years respectively for sexually molesting the same 14-year-old boy.

Unclear on the Concept

In October the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the appeal of Antonio Contreras, who says his termination as a forklift operator for the Suncast Corporation in Illinois violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Contreras said he was disabled by sexual dysfunction: he used to have intercourse five times a week, but an injury reduced that to twice a month, which impaired his effectiveness on the job.

People Different From Us

In October, Florida police arrested 39-year-old Jeffrey J. Harris during the halftime of a football game between Saint Petersburg and Clearwater high schools. Angry about something that occurred in the first half, Harris blocked the entrance to the locker room and ordered his two sons, starters for Clearwater, to strip off their uniforms in public and come home with him. When the police arrived, Harris struck a martial-arts pose but was subdued with pepper gas. His sons did not return in the second half, and Clearwater lost.

Recurring Themes

In September 72-year-old Salomon Vides came out of hiding in the Guatemalan jungle, unaware that the 1969 war between El Salvador and Honduras had ended about 100 days after it began. Vides said he had often heard gunfire over the years (rescuers noted that the area is popular with hunters) and seemed to have a tough time with the concept of pop-top soda cans.

Thinning the Herd

In September a hunter in Galien, Michigan, inadvertently shot and killed his 23-year-old son after the mischievous young man hid behind a log, held up a dead squirrel, and made barking sounds....In July a 25-year-old man in Houston died when, driving around with his girlfriend, he parked on some railroad tracks to scare her, chased after her on foot, heard a horn and ran back to move his car, and was crushed by a train....And in October a 19-year-old student at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, was killed when he slid down a chute in the university library, thinking it was for laundry, and was deposited into a trash compactor.

In the Last Month

Motorist Jerry Ross pleaded guilty to hit-and-run charges in Augusta, Georgia, after he collided with a slow-moving train, extricated his mangled car, and drove off....Greg Bonnett filed a lawsuit against a strip club in Port Moody, British Columbia, after one of its exotic dancers took too wide a swing from her pole and smacked him in the face with her leg, breaking his nose....And a 58-year-old man died of kidney problems caused by a gunshot wound he incurred during the infamous 1966 shooting spree of sniper Charles Whitman at the University of Texas, thus bringing Whitman's death toll to 15.

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

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