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Stranger than fiction


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Curses, foiled again

Massachusetts State Police who stopped Francis Viliar, 36, for speeding said he showed troopers a driver's license that had the name Luis Gomez but a different signature. When they asked him his birth date, he failed six times to match the one on the license, prompting his arrest. At the Brockton police station, officers noticed the pads of Viliar's fingers were covered with scar tissue. They took fingerprints anyway, and federal officials were able to determine his identity and that he was wanted on 13 warrants. Viliar said he paid someone $400 to cut his fingers vertically, from the fingertip to the knuckle joint, so his prints would be unreadable. "Fortunately," police official David Procopio told the Boston Globe, "our efforts to identify [suspects] are keeping pace with their efforts to mutilate themselves."

Michael Anthony Randall Jr., 19, tried to rob a convenience store in Athens, Ohio, but when he tried to pull a sawed-off shotgun from his coveralls, he shot himself in the leg and foot, according to Athens-Clarke police, who said the blast caused extensive nerve, muscle and tissue damage. The Athens Banner-Herald said investigators believe Randall had his finger on the trigger of the shotgun with the barrel extending down his left leg when he tried to withdraw it.

When turkeys fry

Allegedly intending to demonstrate the dangers of frying a turkey, morning disc jockeys on radio station WFLZ in Tampa, Fla., planned to use a crane to drop a turkey carcass through the open roof of a plumbing van into a vat of hot oil. The stunt began to unravel, according to the St. Petersburg Times, when the vat on a burner burst into flames that shot through the van's roof. By the time the turkey landed in the vat, flames had engulfed the van. Station employees tried to put out the fire with handheld extinguishers before giving up and summoning the fire department. Noting that one of the firefighters injured himself pulling hoses off the truck, fire Capt. Bill Wade called the incident a violation of an understanding that, because of several previous stunts involving burning objects, the station needed permission anytime DJs planned to set anything on fire.

Temper tantrum

A dispute over a $70 electric repair bill caused a member of a church in Spokane, Wash., to use his truck to ram the church several times with his truck, apparently trying to break in. reported that when Mark Heitman did get inside, he broke nearly every window, television and computer screen, and most of the lighting fixtures. He also reportedly smashed the church instruments and even crushed the toilets. "He'd done work on the church, and we paid him with a check, not cash," pastor Dan Eubank of Country Crossroads Christian Church said. "I didn't have cash, and he got mad." Eubank added that before his rampage at the church, Heitman had stopped by and broken the windows in the parson's truck.

Acts of cow

Authorities in Hawkins County, Tenn., reported that Jerry Lynn Davis called to complain because a neighbor's cows had been licking his house and caused about $100 in damage by ripping off a screen window, cracking the glass and pulling down a gutter. The Kingsport Times-News noted that Davis' home is just a couple of feet from a fence enclosing the cows' pasture, but Deputy Chris Funk, who investigated, didn't indicate what might have attracted the herd to the house.

The party's over

A 49-year-old man who dropped his son off at a birthday party in Wauconda, Ill., returned to pick him up a few hours later but went to a house a block away. According to police Cmdr. John Thibault, when the homeowner who answered the door insisted he didn't have the 11-year-old boy, the father and his 15-year-old son forced their way into the home, prompting the homeowner to shoot them. The 15-year-old was treated for wounds, but his father was hospitalized in critical condition. "They must have got lost in the snow and gone to the wrong street," Thibault told the Chicago Sun-Times, adding, "We still have lots of questions."

Who needs guns?

Authorities charged Joseph Stancato, 33, with assault after they said he hit another man upside the head with his banjo. Noting the banjo is considered "a deadly weapon" under Colorado law, the Aspen Daily News reported the incident occurred on New Year's Eve when Stancato got into an argument with two men at a bus stop.

In reporting the dismissal of weapons charges against John Mark Tillmann, 48, the Chronicle-Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia, noted that authorities had also charged Tillmann with assaulting his elderly mother with a pencil.

Indianapolis police broke up a drugstore robbery by arresting suspect Dustin Abney, 27, who they said was armed with a water-hose nozzle. The Indianapolis Star reported that Abney approached an employee who was taking a smoking break outside the store, announced he was going to rob the store and asked whether the employee wanted any money or pills. The employee declined the offer but called police.

No help needed

Firefighters investigating a house fire in Dubois, Wyo., determined the cause was a magnifying glass. The Associated Press reported that the sun was shining at just the right angle to hit the glass, which magnified the sunbeam and ignited a nearby pile of mail. Sheriff's Sgt. Jerry Evagelatos said the fire was extinguished before it damaged the home.

Falling furniture causes 300 deaths a year and 14,700 injuries, according to a study in the journal Clinical Pediatrics by researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, who reviewed reports from 100 emergency rooms. Television sets caused almost half the injuries. The injury rate has risen significantly over the past 17 years, despite the increase in the number of households replacing heavy cathode-ray TVs with lighter flat screens, which are not front-heavy.

Smoked out

Less than a week after the world's fastest train began service in southern China, a smoker triggered an alarm that delayed the train for two and a half hours — about the time the train takes to make its 684-mile journey. "Smoking is strictly forbidden on the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed train, even in the toilet," a railway official told Reuters, which reported the unidentified smoker fled the scene before the alarm sounded.


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