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News of the Weird

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Fire officials in Warrnambool, Australia, continue to investigate a Sept. 15 incident in which the carpet of a downtown business burned in several spots, following loud crackling noises, as Frank Clewer, 58, walked on it wearing woolen and nylon clothes. Fire official Henry Barton said the garments tested to over 30,000 volts of static electricity, and a lecturer in electrical engineering at Sydney University said that, given the weather and indoor temperature, such a buildup was possible, especially if the carpet had been cleaned with flammable substances. Pieces of the carpet, with coin-sized scorches, were sent to the university for further examination. [The Standard (Warrnambool), 9-20-05; Reuters, 9-16-05]

Compelling Explanations

  • Debra Field was convicted of violating the Hobart, Ind., nuisance ordinance in July by keeping two 300-pound hogs as pets, after neighbors complained of the smell produced by the pigs' estimated 35 pounds of waste per day. Fields had testified, apparently seriously, that she personally couldn't smell her pigs at all. [WKMG-TV-AP, 7-25-05]

  • Two former girlfriends of married New York City endocrinologist Khaled Zeitoun have sued him recently, according to a September New York Post story, claiming that they had been tricked for years by his lies. Tiffany Wang said that Dr. Zeitoun had (1) told her on their first date that they had been married in a previous life, that he regretted mistreating her, and that he had been searching for her in this lifetime to make amends; (2) told her that the devil had taken his soul 14 years earlier, that to get it back he had to agree never to marry, and that Wang was the first woman to make him regret the deal; and (3) that when he actually popped the question to Wang in May 2002, he never intended to marry her but wanted merely "to see the look of joy on her face." [New York Post, 9-9-05]

    The Litigious Society

  • The Appellate Court of Illinois ruled in July that the family of Detroy Marshall Sr. could proceed with its lawsuit against Burger King for Marshall's wrongful death caused when a car jumped the curb and crashed into a BK whose building was protected by a brick wall that the restaurant had built only a few feet from the ground instead of higher up. The trial court had dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that Burger Kings can't be expected to build fortresses against recklessly driven, airborne cars. [Marshall vs. Burger King Corp., No. 03-L-369, Appellate Court of Illinois, 3-4-05]

  • The state of California agreed in August to pay $10 million to the family of Marisol Morales, who accidentally drove her truck off of guardrail-less Highway 138, through a fence, and into the California Aqueduct near Los Angeles in 2003, killing her and two of her children. A surviving child will need $7.5 million for medical care, but $2.5 million will go to husband Raul Morales, an unlicensed driver who had originated the fatal trip by dispatching his wife, also unlicensed and just learning to drive, on an errand. [Antelope Valley Press (Palmdale, Calif.), 8-26-05]


  • In August, a jury found Virginia death-row inmate Daryl Atkins mentally competent, based on a recent IQ score of 76 (thus beating the "70" standard, below which under state law he could not be executed). Prosecutors said two previous scores below 70 were deceptively low because of Atkins' drug and alcohol use, but legal experts hypothesized that Atkins' IQ had actually improved in recent years via the intellectual stimulation of discussing his case with lawyers. [ABC News-AP, 8-14-05]

  • (1) Lawyer Curtis Holmes, who had just delivered the opening statement in defense of an alleged child sex abuser in a Pocatello, Idaho, courtroom in August, was, minutes later, suspended by the state bar association for a previous case, in which he arranged to take nude photos of a client in exchange for reducing her bill. (2) Former L'Oreal executive Elysa Yanowitz won a preliminary round in her lawsuit against the company, which had fired her, she said, because she had refused to dismiss a dark-haired subordinate whom her blonde-preferring boss thought was not attractive enough (in other words, a woman whom L'Oreal thought was not "worth it"). [Idaho State Journal, 7-28-05] [The Independent (London), 8-15-05]

    People With Too Much Money

    The New York Post reported in July that several high-profile Manhattan dentists were offering sets of temporary teeth veneers to make patients' smiles resemble those of celebrities, at $1,000 to $2,000 a set; more popular veneers were the "Halle," the "Britney," the "Gwyneth," and, of course, for men, the "Tom" and the "George." And The Wall Street Journal reported in July on people who pay "lifestyle designers" up to $450 an hour to construct fanciful, all-new personnas for them, including proper wardrobe and home decor down to which gifts to give and which vacations to take. For example, an ad agency owner who wanted to project a "carefree" image had to be told to buy herself a turquoise 1955 Thunderbird and wear cowboy boots and a bright red scarf around town. [New York Post, 7-17-05] [Wall Street Journal, 7-15-05]

    Creme de la Weird

    Brendan Francis McMahon, 36, a partner in a financial planning and mortgage brokerage in Sydney, Australia, was arrested in August for having sex with one pet rabbit and abusing others and was jailed without bail because the magistrate thought he posed a danger to animals in the community. McMahon was due back in court on Sept. 30, and police said they may charge him with more bestiality at that time. (McMahon's lawyer blamed a methamphetamine habit for any trouble he may be in.) [Sydney Morning Herald, 8-19-05]

    Least Competent Criminals

    The Dominion Post of Wellington, New Zealand, reported in September the arrest of a recruit at the Porirua Royal New Zealand Police College, who in the course of learning fingerprint protocol, ran his own and discovered an outstanding assault warrant. He was immediately arrested. And in May, Laurie Ralston's plans to join the police department in Amherst, Ohio, as a dispatcher were scuttled when a background check revealed 17 traffic convictions and two outstanding warrants. She was immediately arrested. [Dominion Post, 9-7-05] [WFTV-TV-AP, 5-4-05]

    More Things to Worry About

    In tests of busy hospitals in each state (reported in a July issue of the New England Journal of Medicine), it was discovered that at least 12,000 heart-attack patients in a six-month period were apparently not given the most basic, life-saving, follow-up instructions (such as prescribing aspirin in the first 24 hours after an attack, which increases survival rate by 30 percent). "(T)hings will fall through the cracks," said an author of the study. And a RAND Corp. survey released in August revealed that, of 19 public health clinics tested with telephone messages describing symptoms of facial pustules or other well-known indicators of small pox, not one of them told the caller to isolate the patient. [New York Times, 8-21-05] [Arizona Daily Star-AP, 8-30-05]

    People Who Just Can't Give It Up

    Thomas Haberbush, 72, pleaded guilty in April in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to two counts to settle charges that he recently stalked as many as nine long-ago supervisors, with petty vandalism of their homes, in retaliation for his having received unfavorable job reviews as an elementary school teacher nearly 30 years ago. And retired political science professor Robert Spadaro was convicted in New York City in June of recently trying to kill Douglas Bennett, who was a personnel executive in the administration of President Ford and who in 1975 allegedly denied Spadaro a job. [Albany Times Union, 4-7-05] [New York Daily News, 6-19-05]

    Undignified Deaths

    In August, a 22-year-old motorcyclist going 100 mph to outrun police, who wanted to stop him for riding without a helmet, lost control and fatally crashed at the outskirts of the town of Bogart, Ga., ramming into the "Welcome to Bogart" sign. And in July, a 61-year-old farmer in the village of Cadjavacki Lug, Croatia, was accidentally killed when, as he prepared to milk a cow, he fell down, scaring the cow, and causing it to fall on top of him. [Athens Banner-Herald, 8-9-05] [Reuters, 7-26-05]

    Thanks This Week to Bill Bryan, Teresa McGuffey, Tom Barker, Eli Christman, Jamie Anderson, Juan Jimenez, Brandee Moncrief, Judith Hicks, Stephen Wiedeke, and Peter Smagorinsky, and to many readers who were electrified by the Lead Story, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

    (Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or or go to


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