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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

In September an ambulance stolen in Lexington, North Carolina, led police on a chase through parts of three rural counties before being forced into a ditch near the Virginia border with its tires punctured. The driver was identified as Leon Hollimon Jr., 37, who had been reported missing in Jacksonville, Florida, more than a month earlier; he had his hair cut in a Mohawk and was wearing a stethoscope around his neck. Stretched out in the back of the ambulance (and hooked up to an IV, according to witnesses) was a deer--a six-point buck that had been dead for several days, authorities said, judging from the smell.

Now, About Those Voting Machines

According to a September article in the Orlando Sentinel, the four criminal judges in Seminole County, Florida, have since January ruled that DUI defendants have the right to technical information about the state's breath analysis test, including its source code; when such information is requested by the defendant but not provided by prosecutors, the test data are rejected as evidence. As a result, according to an official, the DUI conviction rate in the county has dropped to 50 percent at best. Prosecutors complained that the software is a trade secret controlled by the private company that makes the test equipment, which won't release the information, but the judges responded that the state should have bought its equipment from a manufacturer that would: "Florida cannot," one judge wrote, "contract away the statutory rights of its citizens."

Government in Action

An Associated Press investigation revealed in September that $5 billion in federal funding earmarked for small businesses affected by the 9/11 attacks was so poorly managed that while many New York businesses near Ground Zero were unable to get relief, low-interest loans were handed out to companies hundreds or even thousands of miles away, including a dog grooming boutique in Utah, a Subway restaurant in Ohio, a country radio station in South Dakota, and a perfume shop in the Virgin Islands. The Small Business Administration acknowledged that in many cases it had awarded 9/11 money to businesses that hadn't even claimed to have been hurt by the attacks.

Great Art!

Among the sculpture on display at this year's Burning Man festival, held in late August in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, was Don Bruce and Tracy Feldstein's The Disgusting Spectacle: a 23-foot-tall human head with an attached hand that (when powered by volunteers running in a huge hamster wheel) picks its nose.

America's Gun Problem

The following people recently shot themselves by accident: unidentified man, abdomen, trying to dislodge round from chamber of pistol using screwdriver, lived (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, August); unidentified male state trooper, leg, holstering pistol after catching up to fleeing suspect, lived (near Maryville, Tennessee, August); unidentified 15-year-old boy, leg, fleeing after allegedly robbing convenience store, lived (New Caney, Texas, August); unidentified woman, foot, trying to kill snake, lived (Etoile, Texas, September); same woman, other foot, presumably trying again, lived (Etoile, Texas, September); unidentified 29-year-old man, leg, after allegedly committing stickup in parking lot, then being struck by what police believe to have been intended getaway car, then being struck repeatedly by car of woman who apparently knew victim, lived (Milwaukee, October); Danny Walden, leg, trying to rig rifle as booby trap, apparently to protect 115 marijuana plants allegedly found in residence, lived (Taylorsville, Kentucky, October).

The Continuing Crisis

In August, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan placed Spanish-language ads in six Colombian newspapers and magazines ordering leaders of the revolutionary group FARC--which has been at war with the Colombian government for more than four decades--to appear in his courtroom in Washington, D.C., to answer charges of kidnapping three U.S. citizens. Hogan's assistant said the law requires that the defendants be issued with a summons, and the judge was, understandably, unable to obtain the FARC's mailing address.

In the Last Month

Attorney Cindy Baker was found not guilty of contempt of court in Berryville, Florida. During an early-October trial in which her client stood accused of charges including possession of a bomb, Baker attempted to introduce into evidence a device similar to the one allegedly found at her client's place of business. Apparently believing it to be a live explosive, circuit judge Alan Epley immediately ordered the courtroom cleared; several buildings were evacuated, streets cordoned off, and a bomb squad called in to remove the device and detonate it. At the contempt hearing, experts testified that the "bomb"--actually a commercially available class C firework, about five inches by two inches--had been disabled and posed no threat, and that it had been reasonable for Baker to bring it to court as exculpatory evidence. . . . And prosecutors decided not to file aggravated battery and criminal mischief charges against 73-year-old Ralph Padgett of Homosassa, Florida, who had been arrested in early October after allegedly ramming his riding mower into the mower of his neighbor David Ervin.

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

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