Columns » Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction


Curses, foiled again

When the metal detector at the Kane County, Ill., courthouse sounded while Alex Robinson, 37, was entering, security guards asked him to empty his pockets so the contents could be scanned. Robinson, on his way to a probation hearing, dropped a bag with three grams of cocaine into the bin and was promptly arrested. "I don't know how you forget," sheriff's Lt. Pat Gengler said. "It's not like you don't know there's a checkpoint coming up." (Chicago Sun-Times)

A burglary suspect trying to crawl through a laundry vent to reach a locked storage area at an apartment building in Knoxville, Tenn., got stuck in the hole. Police Sgt. Jason Keck said an officer who found the unidentified Hispanic male held his pants legs to try to free him, but the suspect slipped out of his pants, fell into the storage area and fled on foot. He was quickly caught. (Knoxville News Sentinel)

Costly memories

The foundation that operates New York City's National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center estimated the still-unfinished $700 million project will cost at least $60 million a year to operate, no doubt requiring a hefty government subsidy. Around $12 million a year will pay for private security, which foundation president Joe Daniels said is necessary to thwart terrorism at the site where the twin towers once stood. Operating the water fountains alone will cost up to $5 million annually. (Associated Press)

When guns are outlawed

Police responding to a domestic dispute in New London, Conn., said Richard Parker Jr., 36, attacked another man with a pillow, hitting him several times before stealing cash and his car. (Connecticut's The Day)

Didn't see this coming

Fire officials blamed a blaze that caused $150,000 worth of damage to a house and garage in Aurora, Ill., on Samoan fire swords. The residents used the antique swords, which are doused with a flammable liquid and then set on fire, in a traditional dance. When they finished, they wrapped the swords in towels and placed them in the garage. Investigators concluded the swords were either improperly extinguished or somehow reignited. (Chicago Tribune)

Second-Amendment follies

Thomas Grant, 24, accidentally shot his 8-year-old cousin after mistaking her for a skunk at a Halloween party, according to police in New Sewickley Township, Pa. The girl was wearing a black body costume and a black hat with a white tassel. Skunks are black with a white stripe. (Beaver County Times)

More Amendment follies

The owners of a gun shop in Acworth, Ga., announced that their new $3.5 million shooting range will be a state-of-the-art facility, with a lounge that serves alcohol. "Georgia law allows persons with gun permits to bring their weapons into a restaurant that serves alcohol," Kristina Brown said. "We are taking it even a step further." (Atlanta's WSB-TV)

Homeland insecurity

A $500,000 New York Port Authority patrol boat equipped to combat maritime assaults on JFK International Airport by terrorists sank during a training exercise after a veteran police sergeant opened a hatch below the waterline. When the starboard engine of the aluminum-hull catamaran began vibrating, some on board suspected a piece of driftwood or rope was clogging the engine. The sergeant followed the advice of a civilian safety instructor to open the hatch to look for an obstruction. The vessel sank within 30 minutes.

The mishap came a month after the Port Authority's high-tech $100 million Perimeter Intrusion Detection airport security system failed to detect a man whose jet ski ran out of gas in Jamaica Bay. He climbed a fence at JFK, crossed two active runways and flagged down a baggage handler for help. (New York Post)

Occupational hazards

When Joshua O'Gorman, 27, and Daniel Mansell, 33, appeared in a British court for sentencing after pleading guilty to attempted burglary, they asked the judge to take into account that the homeowner shot them, insisting the shooting injured and traumatized them in what their attorney described as akin to a "near-death experience." Leicester crown court Judge Michael Pert was unmoved and sentenced them to four years in jail. "Being shot is not mitigation," he declared. "If you burgle a house in the country where the householder owns a legally held shotgun, that is the chance you take. You cannot come to court and ask for a lighter sentence because of it." (Britain's The Guardian)

An unidentified tree trimmer was killed in Hollywood, Calif., after he was "physically trapped beneath massive palm fronds" 30 feet off the ground, authorities said. "Palm fronds like this," Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department noted, "have been known to weigh as much as half a ton." According to John Ball, a South Dakota State University forestry professor, the odds of tree workers being killed "are one in 3,000." (Los Angeles Times)

Landing-strip mining

Officials from two southern Virginia counties said a three-year battle with federal regulators has held up plans to lengthen the runway at Grundy Municipal Airport so it can accommodate corporate jets. The dispute centers on whether the upgrade is an airport project or a coal mine. The feds insist the runway project requires a mining permit because local authorities plan to sell any coal dug up during the expansion to help finance the $60 million upgrade. But attorneys advised local authorities that a municipality could not hold a mining permit. Officials maintain the upgrade is essential to promoting economic development in the poverty-stricken region. Donnie Rife, head of the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors, said the delay has cost an estimated $20 million because the price of coal has dropped during the three-year dispute. (The Washington Times)

Mensa reject of the week

Authorities accused Dakoda Garren, 19, of stealing an antique coin collection, estimated to be worth $100,000, from a home in Woodland, Wash., and then spending some of the rare coins at face value to buy pizza and movie tickets. (Vancouver's The Daily News)

Nice work if you can get it

With China's 11 health ministry sperm banks unable to meet demand by childless couples, a black market for sperm is thriving. Noting that freelance donors suggest impregnation by intercourse is easier and more reliable than artificial injection, Li Shaohua, 28, the organizer of an online group of voluntary sperm donors, said couples insist on trying artificial insemination first but in the end usually resort to sex with the donor. (Indo-Asian News Service)

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