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Compelling Explanations

In the 2006 take-off crash of a Comair commuter airliner at the regional airport in Lexington, Ky. (which the FAA blamed on pilot error), all 47 passengers were killed, and 21 lawsuits have been filed, with attorney William Johnson defending the only cockpit survivor (the first officer). The Lexington Herald-Leader reported in January that, in court papers filed in the lawsuits, Johnson had offered the defense that the seat-belted-in passengers should share the blame for their own deaths, in that they should have chosen other airports that might have been safer. (Shortly after the newspaper report, Johnson withdrew the defense.)

A prominent British novelist (former winner of the prestigious Whitbread Prize) announced in January that she had won a settlement of the equivalent of more than $200,000 from a shoe manufacturer in the town of Totnes because fumes from its factory so sapped her creativity that she was forced to write down-market thrillers instead of literary works. Joan Brady said numbness in her hands and legs, caused by pollutants, made her settle on simpler plotlines involving violence as she worked out her aggression toward the factory owners.

William Harvey, defending a DUI charge in court in Perth, Scotland, in February, told the judge that his high blood-alcohol reading was because he has a “balloon-like” pouch in his neck (sort of like a pelican’s) that collects most of the alcohol he swallows and therefore makes it seem that he is much more inebriated than he really is. (He was convicted.)


Instant Karma: (1) In January, a man in Citrus Heights, Calif., had a one-car accident that left him with serious head and body injuries that were perhaps exacerbated because he was not wearing a seat belt (even though the 12-pack of beer on the seat beside him was securely buckled, and survived). (2) Daniel Thompson, 31, was so upset by the sex, profanity and violence in movies today that he opened a video store in Orem, Utah, offering major Hollywood films but with the objectionable parts manually removed. Hollywood studios got a court order shutting down the store in December because of copyright infringement, and in January, Thompson was arrested after police said he paid two 14-year-old girls for sex. [Sacramento Bee, 1-8-08]

Miss Fayetteville (N.C.) 2007 Jenna Walters is scheduled in court in April to answer for her November arrest in which police said she had veered recklessly through traffic in Southern Pines, N.C., in order to harass driver Angela Thomas. She pulled in front of Thomas, blocked her path, then got out, screaming and taunting the woman, but then quit and drove off, only to return moments later from the other direction, bump Thomas’ car and resume screaming, then left but returned yet again, bumped Thomas’ car from behind and yelled some more. In the 2006 Miss Fayetteville pageant, Walters was voted Miss Congeniality.

Almost half of the 47 members of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council are not “free democracies” (according to Freedom House rankings), and several, such as China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, have been widely criticized as human rights violators. Consequently, the council has failed to address any of the most prominent rights abuses around the world (including some that were called genocide) in Sudan, North Korea, Chad, Zimbabwe and Iran, among other places, but in January, the council voted its 12th “condemnation” of Israel (out of only 13 condemnations it has ever issued).

Great Moments in Maturity

Lawyer Kathy Brewer Rentas, 49, was charged with assault in February after asking to shake hands with federal lawyer Jennifer Keane (who was prosecuting Rentas’ husband for probation violation). The handshake began in businesslike fashion, but according to a court security guard, Rentas squeezed the hand, then yanked it up and down hard, “almost pull(ing) Keene’s arm out of its socket” and nearly sending her to the ground.

When a 72-year-old Levis, Quebec, woman cleared her walk with a snowblower in December, sending some of the snow onto the adjacent property, the 43-year-old neighbor grabbed his blower and sent it back, and the two spent about 10 minutes blowing snow on each other before they stopped. (They “faced each other,” “engines roaring,” wrote the Canadian Press.) The neighbor then allegedly punched the woman (and her husband, who had come to help her) and was charged with assault.

Can’t Stop Myself

In February, a court in Cardiff, Wales, once again released Thelma Dennis, 50, to get therapy for her addiction of making bogus emergency (“999”) telephone calls, even though she has been prosecuted about 60 times in 24 years on similar charges. In an earlier case, Dennis agreed to a therapy that sent painful shocks through her body every time she dialed 999, and she remained free of problems for four years but reoffended recently by making up a bomb threat against a store.

Least Competent Criminals

(1) William Anderson, 51, was arrested in February after he attracted a lot of attention by parking a Hummer (with Michigan plates) outside the small-town county welfare office in Jonesville, Va., while he applied for benefits; a quick investigation revealed that the vehicle had been stolen. (2) Frederick Watson, 57, was arrested in February in DeLand, Fla., after he attracted attention by pushing a heavy safe in a shopping cart through the lobby of the Putnam Hotel. When questioned, Watson tried to convince police that he had “found” the safe (but actually, it had been stolen from a fourth-floor office).

Recurring Themes

Some parents, in exuberant yet inexplicable expressions of devotion to their babies’ supposed happiness, stage lavish birthday parties at such young ages that the supposed beneficiaries could not possibly remember or appreciate them. For example, the party by Sheila Chapman and Ray Reed for their precious “Prince” Clayburn Reed in February in Tampa Palms, Fla., celebrating Prince’s first birthday, featured 60 guests and a professional party-planner, pony rides, a magician, a pinata, centered around a rented room at the local country club. Said Chapman to a St. Petersburg Times reporter: “These are the memories I want him to have. I want him to know how important and special I think he is.”

Undignified Deaths

A 50-year-old Buddhist monk, who had already lost parts of three fingers in one lawnmower accident, was killed in February when another mower got away from him, and in the ensuing chase and capture of it, he somehow fell and was fatally slashed by the blade (Buckinghamshire, England). And a 36-year-old man attempted to hang himself in a closet in January, but his girlfriend discovered him in time and pulled him down, but that just angered the man, who then fought with the girlfriend. A passer-by stepped in to help the woman, and in the process applied a wrestling hold to the suicidal man’s carotid artery, inadvertently killing him (San Diego, Calif.) (Irrelevant fact: The deceased’s last name was Kevorkian.)