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News of the Weird
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Too Much Mayoring

Just after classes let out at Callaway High School in Jackson, Miss., on April 28, Mayor Frank Melton, riding down Interstate 220 with his police escort, motioned to the drivers of four school buses to pull off the road so that Melton could board the buses and shake hands with and hug the students, apparently just because, as he later told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, recent weeks had been “stressful.” Melton told the newspaper that he’s just “passionate” about kids and education. “I didn’t do anything stupid or illegal,” he said, but a state education official said that it was improper to interfere with the operation of a school bus except in an emergency.


Compelling Explanations

Stacy Steel, 38, the former executive director of the Humane Society in Oceanside, Calif., was arrested in April and charged with fraud for using the organization’s authority to buy 3,600 Vicodin tablets (a prescription pain-reliever), which she said were for her dog.

Not My Fault: (1) Ms. Tyler Bauer, 18, sued TGI Friday’s in Frederick, Md., in March, asking $200,000 for serious facial injuries from falling out of a moving pickup truck. Bauer, who registered a .238 blood-alcohol reading, was given beer and liquor by an adult patron of TGI Friday’s and claims the restaurant should have found out and stopped him. (2) In March, a jury in St. Louis awarded Gretchen Porro $100,000 for the loss of two fingers at the City Museum’s Puking Pig attraction. Although the exhibit was closed, Porro nonetheless crossed a railing and stuck her hand inside the machinery to get it to release a vat full of water. (The jury valued the injury at $500,000 but said Porro was 80 percent at fault.)

Yes, My Fault: Michelle Srun, 34, testifying for leniency for her accused-rapist husband in a Montgomery County, Md., court in March, said she must be partly responsible for his attacks on several underage girls, in that she belittled and abused him for years with her overbearing personality and had multiple affairs during their marriage (six simultaneously during one stretch). (Unimpressed, the judge gave Mr. Pov Srun 27 years.)

Simon Hamilton, 35, admitted in Canterbury (England) Crown Court in April that he took furtive “upskirt” photos of women standing in public places and even acknowledged having an extensive collection, but he denied that the pictures gave him sexual gratification. Rather, he said, he was merely a habitual collector of things and spent his time cataloguing the photos rather than looking at them. “It was the sort of gratification of a job well done,” he explained, telling the judge that he came from a long family line of collectors. (Besides, Hamilton said, his upskirt days ended around 2001, when he decided to re-enter the practice of law and realized that upskirt photography was “no longer ... appropriate.” (At press time, no verdict had been reported.)


The Litigious Society

Outsized Payoffs: (1) The family of an 8-year-old boy in Espanola, N.M., won an award of $221,000 in April, payment for a bad half-hour experience for the boy when he was improperly booked, outfitted in an orange jumpsuit, and jailed after throwing a tantrum in his principal’s office. (2) In March, a 10-year-old boy in Torquay, England, was awarded the equivalent of almost $2,800 following his expulsion from school for selling marijuana. The local government agreed that his school had acted too slowly in fulfilling its duty to find the expelled boy alternate schooling. 


Questionable Judgments

In April, Rudy Rios, the junior varsity baseball coach at Chavez High School in Houston, was fired from that job after the principal learned that he encouraged students to skip school to attend protests over U.S. immigration policy. Reportedly, Rios was not fired, however, from his other Chavez High job, which is as teacher of English as a foreign language, even though Rios wrote, on an immigration-protest flier: “We gots 2 stay together and protest against the new law that wants 2 be passed against all immigrants. We gots 2 show the U.S. that they aint (expletive deleted by the Houston Chronicle) with out (sic) us.”

Instructions from Britain’s Home Office to local police departments in April introduced a “Gravity Factor Matrix” to prescribe significantly lesser punishments for a wide range of crimes, including such serious ones as attempted murder, arson and sex with underage girls. According to the matrix, suspects who confess and who have no prior offenses may, at police discretion, have the crime registered on their record but receive only a “caution” that does not require a court appearance or further punishment. Only the most heinous crimes require detention in all cases. The Labour government’s political opponents were livid, accusing the government of taking its “anti-prison bias” too far.


The Continuing Crisis

Adventures With Cash Registers: (1) The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune, reporting in March on recidivist-robber Eugene Rutledge, 21, found that employees at one Taco Bell were so accustomed to Rutledge’s robbing them that as soon as he appeared at the door, they would ritually open the cash register for him. (2) In Denver in April, a man tried to rob a Walgreen’s drugstore, but a clerk resisted and, during a scuffle, grabbed the first thing at his disposal to throw at the man, and it happened to be the store’s cash drawer. The robber eagerly gathered up the loose money, fled, and according to police is still at large.


People With Issues

Police in the Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo arrested a 70-year-old man in April after the manager of a 7-Eleven reported that the man had menaced him with a chainsaw. The would-be customer apparently came to the store every day only to read from various magazines for sale, and after several hours, the manager finally ordered him to leave. The man returned a short time later with the chainsaw, cranked it up, and shouted, “I’ll cut you to pieces.” He then laid it down and resumed reading and was still reading when police arrived.


Recurring Themes

At least one judge in recent years accepted the defense of mistaken sexual intercourse when a man enters a dark bedroom and initiates sex with a woman he believes is his sexual partner, only to discover that it is another resident of the home. In a recent case, Paul Chappell, 31, raised the defense at his trial in Sydney, Australia, claiming that he (reportedly intoxicated) erroneously stumbled into bed with his new girlfriend’s female housemate. Since the housemate’s boyfriend was elsewhere in the house, she assumed that the boyfriend had decided to come to bed and that it was he having sex with her. At press time, the trial had not concluded. ƒç

Fine Points of the Law

A female guard at a New York state juvenile detention center was raped, beaten and kidnapped at knifepoint in 2004 by one of the inmates, who escaped with the guard in a car and remained at large until he was recaptured six hours later, but when the guard applied for union insurance payments, she was informed that the contract paid kidnapping benefits only for incidents of at least eight hours’ duration. According to a March Albany Times Union story, she received worker compensation and about $10,000 in other benefits, but if she had remained captive for two more hours, she would have received between $40,000 and $100,000 more.


Latest Cutting-Edge Research

(1) A three-year study at the PET Center at Arhus Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, reported in March, affirmed that the designer drug Ecstasy can cause depression in pigs. (2) Drawing heavy fire from critics in March was a Cdn$150,000 (US$135,000) grant from the Ontario government to researchers at Laurentian University, for the purpose of studying the sex drives of squirrels (to assess how wildlife adapt to the environment).