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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

In April the New York Post reported on an item for sale at the Web site of Salt Lake City fashion designer Jared Gold: a brooch consisting of a live Madagascar hissing cockroach, roughly three inches long, with a cluster of Swarovski crystals glued to its back, attached to a cameo pin by a silver chain that allows the insect to roam around the garment it's pinned to. Only male cockroaches are used to make the jewelry, presumably so the wearer doesn't have to worry about suddenly finding herself covered with a brood of baby cockroaches.

Handicapable

In March police pulled over a speeding car on State Highway 2 in Papamoa, New Zealand, to discover that the 32-year-old man at the wheel was driving without (a) a license or (b) arms. He explained that he'd been armless since birth and though he'd never held a license he'd been driving safely for years, using one foot to steer and the other to work the pedals. He was fined about $100 and barred from further driving.

Cultural Diversity

According to a Reuters dispatch from Nigeria--where graft continues to be a way of life despite a government campaign to fight it--an official of the national soccer association told a seminar audience in March that referees should feel free to accept bribes as long as they don't actually favor anyone while officiating the match.

A Deal's a Deal

In 1994, after being diagnosed with AIDS and cancer and given two years to live, a Philadelphia woman identified in legal filings as M. Smith signed a viatical settlement with a Texas company called Life Partners Inc.: LPI agreed to pay Smith about $85,000 up front and cover all insurance premiums for the rest of her life; in return it would receive her $150,000 life-insurance payout when she died. Thanks to advances in medicine Smith is still alive, but since 1998 LPI has periodically threatened to stop paying for her health insurance, which currently costs nearly $30,000 a year. Last November Smith, now 50, filed suit against the company to force it to cooperate; according to a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, LPI's lawyers assured an unsympathetic judge at a February hearing that the company would continue to honor its contract.

Creme de la Weird

In April the Ohio State Chiropractic Board filed charges against James Burda of Athens, saying that his use of a therapy he invented and calls Bahlaqeem constitutes malpractice. Burda claims he has the ability to realign bones by mentally "telling" them to change position and can travel back in time to treat an injury when it occurred; he also says on his Web site that there is no need for him and his patients to actually meet, as Bahlaqeem can be practiced long-distance via e-mail or phone.

Police in Asheville, North Carolina, brought misdemeanor charges against 39-year-old Paul Metcalf Jr. in April for two incidents in large stores where he apparently smeared or spat semen on women surreptitiously. In one case security personnel watching video monitors reportedly saw Metcalf follow a female shopper, then blow into a straw to fire an unidentified projectile that struck the back of the woman's head; they never found her but did recover the straw and the residue it contained.

Least Competent People

Joshua Abeyta, 23, was charged with arson in February after allegedly setting fire to a Pontiac dealership in suburban Denver. According to investigators, Abeyta had no connection to the dealer or the manufacturer; he was simply angry at his mother, who drives a Pontiac.

Least Competent Surgeons

In January surgeons in Orange, California, opened up the left side of a child's skull to remove a brain tumor; unable to locate it, they checked the patient's chart and discovered that the tumor was on the right side. Hospital officials said that the doctors had ignored elements of surgery protocol, failing to take a "time-out" to positively identify the incision site or to mark the skull before cutting. (The surgeons found and removed the tumor on the second try.) And in April hand surgeon Mary Ellen Beatty of Tampa, Florida, was suspended from practice and fined $20,000 for beginning an operation by cutting into the wrong finger; a state board assessed the particularly steep penalty because it was Beatty's third such mistake since 2000.

Recurring Themes

Latest serendipitous injuries: In March 54-year-old Donald Batsch was shot in the abdomen during a robbery in Bakersfield, California; while treating his wounds doctors discovered a tumor. In February medical professor Ronald Mann, 77, suffered what doctors said would likely have been a lethal heart attack while driving near Horndean, England, but when his car--which lacked a driver's-side air bag--struck a tree, the impact of his chest against the steering wheel restarted his heart. And in the same month Arnie Fairclaw, also 77, of Altamonte Springs, California, was taken to the hospital after she fell and broke her hip; later that night a pickup truck drove through the wall of her house and crashed into the bed where she almost certainly would have been asleep.

Thinning the Herd

According to the Associated Press an unidentified man in his 80s, reportedly angry with his neighbors about the parking situation on their street in Downey, California, was killed in January after unsuccessfully attempting to use "homemade bombs" to destroy their houses. When police arrived to investigate an explosion they found the man standing in the street holding two guns; one of his arms was on fire. He then ran into his own house, which ultimately burned down after the flames ignited ammunition stored inside. And in the same month Milwaukee police said a 49-year-old woman had tried to get her boyfriend to wake up and talk to her by flicking lit matches at him while he lay in bed; the resulting fire killed her, but the boyfriend and the four other people in the house made it out alive.

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

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