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Stranger than fiction

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Curses, foiled again

After stealing two safes filled with at least $50,000 worth of rare gold and silver coins and a silver ingot, the thieves tried to sell the 62.5-pound silver bar to a metal recycling dealer in Bentonville, Ark. The dealer convinced them the bar, valued at $15,000, was made of lead and gave them $30 for it. Then he called police, who arrested six people, including a handyman working for the victim. "They're kids," Detective Mike Stegall said. "They had no idea what they had."

A man who stole a car in Beachwood, N.J., tried to hide from police by pulling into a driveway. It belonged to Toms River Police Chief Michael G. Mastronardy, who happened to be among the pursuing officers. "Of about 34,000 homes in Toms River, this guy pulls into my driveway like he lives there and had no idea whose house it was," Mastronardy said after arresting George Parker, 49.

Put on a happy face

Hoping to lift spirits dimmed by revolving governments, restless mobs and a weeklong takeover of Bangkok's airports that belied Thailand's slogan as "The Land of Smiles," motorcycle police officers greeted the new year by wearing anti-pollution masks decorated with smiley faces. Highway Police commander Col. Somyos Promnim told the International Herald Tribune the new cloth masks, which hook behind the ears and cover the mouth and nose, will help "reduce the stress from drivers when they see the police." He added some 200 police booths would also distribute holy water, chewing gum and mints.

A new law that took effect Jan. 2 in Brighton, Mich., allows police to ticket and fine anyone who is annoying in public "by word of mouth, sign or motions."

Scrip for trouble

The government approved classifying a 9-mm handgun as a medical device, according to a New Jersey company hoping to manufacture the weapon. The Palm Pistol is designed for people who have trouble firing a normal handgun due to arthritis and other debilitating conditions by using the thumb rather than the index finger to pull the trigger. "It's something that they need to assist them in daily living," declared Matthew Carmel, president of Constitution Arms, which hopes the government will reimburse seniors who buy the $300 firearm. "The justification for this would be no more or less for a walker or wheelchair, or any number of things that are medical devices."

Get it?

Sarcasm can help diagnose dementia, according to Australian scientists. The researchers at the University of New South Wales found that patients younger than 65 who suffer from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, cannot detect when someone is being sarcastic. "The patients with FTD are very literal, and they take what is being said as genuine and sincere," said John Hodges, the senior author of the study, who noted the condition affects one in 4,000 people worldwide.

Ironies illustrated

A top U.S. anti-kidnapping expert was kidnapped. Mexico's Reforma Daily reported that the abduction of Felix Batista, 55, a consultant who specializes in kidnap and ransom response services, occurred in Coahuila state and, according to state security official Fausto Destenave Kuri, "was not violent."

A contract worker who draws blood from drivers suspected of drunk driving was accused of driving drunk to test a suspect. When Kathleen Cherry, 53, showed up at the jail in Carson City, Nev., a sheriff's deputy smelled alcohol on her breath. She reportedly failed field sobriety tests, and her blood-alcohol content exceeded Nevada's legal limit.

The director of special education for an Arizona school district used a school parking space reserved for the handicapped. Chris Beckham, the father of two sons, ages 9 and 6, with muscular dystrophy, said he told Mesa Public Schools Special Education Director William Santiago that parents needed the space to drop off disabled students, but Santiago responded with "absolute arrogance" and told Beckham, "Just because you have a hard life doesn't mean the world owes you anything." The Arizona Republic reported that Santiago was counseled about the incident but neither disciplined nor cited.

Improper prop

Austrian actor Daniel Hoevels narrowly escaped death after slashing his throat on stage with a real knife instead of a blunt stage prop. When he slumped to the floor with blood pouring from his neck, the audience at Vienna's Burgtheater applauded what they thought was a realistic special effect and realized something was amiss only when the actor staggered off stage to receive treatment. Hoevels returned to the stage the following night with a bandage around his neck.

When words fail

Police said Thomas Wayne Garrett, 59, told them he picked up his wife from a 10-day hospital stay but didn't know how to break the news that they had been evicted from the home they were renting in Harrah, Okla., so he pulled over and shot her in the chest with a .38-caliber handgun. Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes told ABC News that Garrett drove Cynthia Garrett, 54, to the emergency room and explained she had been hit in a drive-by shooting. He later admitted he planned to kill his wife and then himself.

On the hot seat

Inax Corp., Japan's second largest toilet-maker, pledged to repair 81,724 electric bidet toilets it sold after several units overheated and emitted smoke. Warning consumers to pull the plug immediately, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry cited six incidents in which water leaked from the bidet pump, rusted the motor and caused the toilet seat to melt and begin smoking.

Let's all flee

A man carrying a trash bag entered a sandwich shop in South Whitehall Township, Pa., claimed to have a gun and demanded money. Allentown's Morning Call reported that two female employees responded by darting out the back door, startling the would-be robber, who ran out the front door before completing the robbery.

The easy way out

More than 100 people a year arrive in the small Swiss town of Schwerzenbach from Germany, Great Britain, France and the United States to drink a lethal dose of barbiturates, according to a British television report. The visitors are drawn by Switzerland's reputation as a trouble-free place to end their lives, thanks to a 1942 law that permits foreigners to kill themselves with few questions asked.

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