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Stranger than fiction



Curses, foiled again

A taxi driver in Springfield, Ill., picked up a fare who hadn't even closed the door before he pulled a handgun and demanded money. The driver told police he noticed the car was still in gear, so he stepped on the gas and jerked the steering wheel back and forth, causing the gunman to fly out of the open passenger door and flee empty handed. (Springfield's The State Journal-Register)

Two people in York, Pa., tried to sell stolen tools to Andrew Hamilton, who recognized the toolbox as his own. After verifying that his tools had been stolen, he notified police, who arrested Cody Lee Littrell, 34, and Rebecca Erinn Dice, 32. (The York Dispatch)

Safety dance

After its Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last year, killing 11 workers and causing the largest offshore spill in U.S. history, Transocean Ltd. awarded bonuses to its executives for making 2010 the "best year in safety performance in our company's history." The payout contrasts with 2009, when the company withheld all executive bonuses after incurring four fatalities that year "to underscore the company's commitment to safety." In its filing on executive pay, Transocean declared, "Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record." (The Wall Street Journal)

Locked and loaded

Authorities said Ryan Martin, 29, and Erica Clayburn, 20, were playing a variation of Marco Polo with a handgun when she shot him in the face, breaking his jaw. "She would close her eyes with a pistol in her hand," Dauphin County, Pa., prosecutor Fran Chardo explained. "He would go somewhere in the room, say 'gun,' and she would have to open her eyes and dry fire the pistol." This time, however, the weapon was loaded. Calling the game "incredibly dangerous," Chardo noted that Martin and Clayburn admitted having played it before. (Harrisburg's WHTM-TV)

RadioShack and Dish Network partnered to offer free guns to first-time subscribers of satellite TV services in western Montana and southwest Idaho. "I might not even consider such a program if I were in Detroit city, but we have a different demographic out here," said Steve Strand, owner of a RadioShack store in Montana's Bitterroot Valley, who came up with the guns-for-subscriptions offer. "All I can tell you is, grandma is packing a gun in Montana." (Reuters)

Virginia's attorney general said state residents may bring guns to church for personal protection during services. Clarifying a state law that requires persons to have a "good and sufficient reason" to "carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon" into churches and other worship houses while a religious meeting is under way, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said that the "right of self-defense lies at the heart of the right to keep and bear arms." Therefore, he concluded, "carrying a weapon for personal protection constitutes a good and sufficient reason under the statute." (The Washington Post)

Mmm, phlegmy

Scientists said that a species of sea cucumber living off the British coast might have a future as haute cuisine. Holothuria forskali, which are animals, not plants, breathe through their anus, can liquefy their body and feed on waste from the sea bottom. A research team from Newcastle University is investigating the possibility of cultivating vast "herds" of sea cucumbers to consume waste from fish farms while allowing the harvest of commercial quantities of the earthworm-like species, which, at 10 inches, sea cucumber specialist Matt Slater noted "would fit on a plate." Although some cultures, notably the Chinese, consider sea cucumbers a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, one western diner rated their flavor "slightly lower than phlegm, the texture of which it closely resembles." (Britain's The Independent and the New Zealand Herald)

Trouble underfoot

After budget cuts forced Chillicothe, Ohio, to close two of its three fire stations, the state cited the third station as a potential fire hazard and ordered the department to assign a firefighter to patrol the firehouse to make sure it isn't on fire. The firefighter on patrol can perform no other duties, according to the state fire marshal's office. Until a costly fire-detection and alarm system is installed and the existing sprinkler system passes inspection, the state said that whenever 10 or more firefighters are on duty, one must be assigned to stand "fire watch." When only nine — the minimum required staffing — are on duty, the city will pay an additional firefighter overtime to repeatedly walk from the basement to the second floor and back. (The Columbus Dispatch)

Burglars broke into a police station in Uddington, near Glasgow, Scotland, during the night when the office was closed and stole uniforms and radios. "At no time has the safety of the public or any officer been jeopardized as a result of this break-in," insisted a Strathclyde Police official. (Reuters)

Must be Chicago

After Marc Baum lost a village election in Manlius, N.Y., by one vote, election officials admitted that one of the absentee ballots for village trustee shouldn't have counted because the voter died three weeks before the election. A state supreme court judge ruled that the results stood, however, because any challenge should have been filed before Arnold Ferguson's ballot was removed from its envelope and added to the tally. (Associated Press)

Drink up

Objecting to drunken-driving reform proposals, Montana lawmaker Alan Hale declared that tough DUI laws "are destroying a way of life that has been in Montana for years and years." Referring to the long drives in rural areas to get to bars, which he called "the center of the communities," Hale, who owns a bar in Basin, insisted, "These DUI laws are not doing our small businesses in our state any good at all. They are destroying them."

Another opponent of DUI reform, Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, took issue with a proposal to revoke the licenses of teens caught drinking, even if they aren't driving. He declared that DUI reform puts the Legislature on "the path of criminalizing everyone in Montana." (The Billings Gazette)

Making a switch

A new Maine law lets people with one arm carry switchblade knives, becoming the first state to make an exception to laws that ban the use of the spring-action knives. Backers of the measure declared the measure saves one-armed people having to force open folding knives with their teeth in emergencies. (Reuters)

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