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Stranger Than Fiction



Curses, foiled again

Authorities searching for Sharon Platt after she was accused of stealing $5,000 while working as an office manager for Murphy Motors in Williston, N.D., located the suspect in Pittsburgh, where she applied for a job and listed Murphy Motors as a reference. Williams County Sheriff's Capt. Bob Stancel said Platt was arrested after the owner of Murphy Motors reported her whereabouts when the Pennsylvania company called to check on the reference.

Sheriff's deputies who spotted a soft-drink vending machine in the yard of a home in Hughes, Ark., noticed a set of dolly tracks in front of the machine that led back to a liquor store that had reported the machine missing. Deputies arrested one man in the yard where the machine was found and reported that a second suspect fled.

Flush with faith

Investigating a report that no one had heard from Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth, 90, for some time, a sheriff's deputy in Juneau County, Wis., discovered the woman's remains on the toilet in a one-bathroom house she shared with Tammy Lewis, 35, and Lewis's two children, 12 and 15. Lewis told the deputy that Middlesworth had died two months earlier while Lewis was helping her on with her underwear. She explained she propped Middlesworth on the toilet seat because God told her Middlesworth would come back to life if she prayed hard enough. While awaiting the resurrection, the family used "makeshift" toilet facilities, Sheriff Brent Oleson told the Associated Press.

A criminal complaint against Lewis stated the house smelled of incense and burnt wood, had religious materials everywhere and also had hymns playing on the stereo. "I believe we're looking at a cult-type situation," District Attorney Scott Southworth said.

High cost of gas

New Orleans Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis warned a city council committee on evacuation planning that higher gas prices could mean some people just "don't have the disposable dollars" to drive to safety in case of a disaster similar to Hurricane Katrina. "The last time we had to evacuate," she explained, "to fill up and get to Baton Rouge may have cost you $80. It's now going to cost you $150."

Fire investigators in Dartmouth, Mass., blamed a fire that displaced 15 residents from eight apartment units on a couple hoarding 45 gallons of gasoline in a utility closet. No one was seriously injured, according to Jennifer Mieth of the state Fire Marshal's Office, who said the fire started when either the water heater or a cooking appliance ignited vapors from the stored gas.

Argument settled

When two young men at a house in Wichita, Kan., began arguing which of them could use the nickname "C-Thug," police Sgt. Lem Moore said a 44-year-old female resident of the house intervened by stabbing one of the young men in the back with a butcher knife. The 19-year-old victim was treated for minor injuries.

Scofflaws of the week

Speeding drivers in south China are avoiding tickets by using remote-controlled devices that switch the numbers on their license plates. "More than 50 percent of cars caught on camera for speeding and other offenses either cover up their plates or use a fake license plate," a police traffic official in Yangjiang told the Beijing Youth Daily. "Our chances of capturing them are next to nil."

Xinhua news agency reported in April that China had confiscated thousands of fake military vehicles and license plates in a crackdown of citizens posing as privileged members of the People's Liberation Army.

Hoping to reduce travel time between two major cities, China spent $1.7 billion to build the world's longest cross-sea bridge. When the 22.4-mile span linking Ningbo and Shanghai opened May 1, officials admitted the crossing was unexpectedly slowed by drivers going excessively slow so they could gawk at the bridge or enjoy the view of Hangzhou Bay. Police fined more than 300 drivers in the first five days after the bridge opened. Zhejiang province's official news portal reported long lines of cars carrying whole families impeded traffic and caused numerous accidents; other drivers parked illegally, some of them even posing in front of police cameras, intending to turn police snapshots into souvenirs.

Tipping justice's scales

A Quebec judge reduced the sentence of convicted drug dealer Michel Lapointe because the prison was unable to handle his 430 pounds. Pointing out the chairs and tables at the facility are too small for his frame, Lapointe's lawyer added that Lapointe gained 50 pounds during his 20 months behind bars because the food was so poor.

Statue stature

Mayawati, the 5-foot-tall chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, ordered officials to replace a 12-foot bronze statue of herself because it was 3 feet shorter than nearby statues of three other leaders. The new likeness of Mayawati, who goes by one name, stands 15 feet high and weighs 20 tons. The old and new statues together cost $950,000.

Claritin isn't enough

The Omaha, Neb., man who performed a tracheotomy on himself in April said he did the same thing two years earlier. Steve Wilder, 55, whose throat is shrunken from radiation treatments for cancer that ended in 2004, said that besides the two self-tracheotomies, he has had two other tracheotomies and added that doctors suspect seasonal allergies cause his breathing difficulties, which occur only in the spring. In the most recent incident, he fell asleep watching television but awoke when he felt himself suffocating. He rushed to the kitchen, grabbed a steak knife and made a quarter-inch incision. "I knew that would chop it open pretty good," he explained afterward.

Feel the heat

Joshua Mullen, 26, told fire officials in Mobile, Ala., he tried to get rid of bees infesting his utility shed by pouring a small amount of gasoline on some towels the bees were swarming around. When he left to pick up some trash in the yard, he said he heard a "whoosh," turned around and saw the shed in flames. Although the fire burned only a short time before firefighters arrived to extinguish it, it burned the shed to cinders and caused about $80,000 in damage to Mullen's home, according to Mobile Fire-Rescue official Steve Huffman, who said the pilot light from a water heater in the shed probably ignited fumes from the gasoline. "Looking at all this," Mullen told the Press-Register, "there might have been a better way."

Compiled from the nation's press by Roland Sweet. Submit items, citing date and source, to P.O. Box 8130, Alexandria, VA 22306.

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