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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

Victoria Pettigrew started VIP Fibers about three years ago in Morgan Hill, California, and according to a December Knight Ridder report now has an enthusiastic clientele of pet owners who pay her to spin yarn from their animals' hair and use it to make knitted items. One customer saved enough hair shed by his golden retriever for Pettigrew to knit a blanket, two throw pillows, a scarf, and a small teddy bear. She's created similar articles from the hair of cats, sheep, alpacas, bison, rabbits, hamsters, cows, and horses.

Is It Safe Yet?

In December the head of security at Boston's Logan Airport told a reporter that three years after 9/11 travelers are apparently still so unfamiliar with carry-on restrictions that his screeners continue to seize 12,000 weapons and other prohibited items per month. The nationwide total since 2002 is nearly 17 million confiscations, including 5 million knives, 79,000 box cutters, and 2,200 guns.

Government in Action

A California appeals court ruled in December that a lawyer had been denied a fair opportunity to argue his case at a zoning hearing before the Los Angeles city council. A videotape of the hearing showed that while the lawyer and other parties addressed the council, most members were on the phone, talking among themselves, or wandering around the room. In ordering a second hearing the court concluded that due process required the council members to pay attention.

Scenes of the Surreal

Hours after last month's Santa Run in Newtown, Wales--a charity race in which the 4,000 competitors wore full Santa Claus costumes--police had to use antiriot spray and nightsticks to break up a drunken street brawl whose roughly 30 participants included many Santas. And the December issue of New Scientist magazine reported on biomechanics researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, England, who in an attempt to better understand dinosaur locomotion were observing 15 ostriches running on treadmills.

Finer Points of the Law

In December in Durham, North Carolina, Robert D. Johnson was sentenced to 15 years in prison for shooting off the penis of a man who, according to prosecutors, was trying to quit the gang he and Johnson belonged to. After hearing that the bullet passed through the victim's leg before hitting his penis, the jury rejected a charge of malicious castration and instead found Johnson guilty of nonmalicious castration.

The Litigious Society

A December ruling by a judge in Nassau County, New York, means that a $10 million lawsuit against the Benihana chain of Japanese restaurants can go to trial. In 2001 Jerry Colaitis died of complications following two spinal operations. According to the lawsuit, the surgery was made necessary when a Benihana chef, grilling and chopping food at the table in the restaurant's trademark razzle-dazzle style, flipped a shrimp to Colaitis, who ducked, injuring two vertebrae in his neck.

Ladell Alexander, serving a 16-year sentence for molesting a four-year-old child in a public library in South Bend, Indiana, filed a $4 million lawsuit last year claiming that library security guards saw him with the child in a restricted area of the building and should have intervened before the incident could take place. A federal judge dismissed the suit in December.

Last February Justin Stalcup, 21, died after overdosing on Oxycontin that his girlfriend stole from the pharmacy near Alton, Illinois, where she worked. In December Stalcup's family sued the pharmacy, saying it had failed to properly safeguard the drugs.

Least Competent Criminals

Floyd Elliot, 22, was charged in December in Independence, Missouri, with filing a false police report: he claimed an assailant had carved the word fag on his forehead, but police were suspicious because the letters were backward. Also in December, Nicholas Valeri, 19, was charged with passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a Wendy's in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. When picked up for questioning, police said, Valeri told them it was an honest mistake--he'd inadvertently acquired some fake bills while selling marijuana.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird has reported several times on drivers who suffer embarrassment, injury, or death after deciding (usually while drunk) to stop alongside a highway at night to urinate. The standard mistakes involve wandering out into traffic or falling over an embankment, but when rescue workers arrived to help Henry Turley, 77, in November near Kingsbury, Indiana, Turley's truck was in a ditch and Turley was lying on his back on the ground, unconscious, with his left foot stuck in the left front wheel well and his right foot caught between the driver's side door and the front seat.

Awesome!

In December a wheel, glowing hot from an overheated bearing, came off a semi traveling on Interstate 84 near Hazelton, Idaho, rolled across a frontage road, and burst into the home of Charisse Stevenson, setting it ablaze. According to a report in the Twin Falls Times-News, Stevenson moved the burning wheel out of her way, scooped up her son (who weighs nearly as much as she does), and carried him to safety. Afterward Stevenson was found to be unable to lift either the wheel or her son.

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

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