Lead Story

One evening in October, 93-year-old Ralph Parker drove up to a tollbooth in Saint Petersburg, Florida, seemingly unaware that there was a dead male body stuck headfirst through the windshield of his Chevy Malibu. Parker had struck a pedestrian about three miles back, hard enough to sever the victim’s right leg and send it flying through the air. When questioned by police, Parker couldn’t tell them what month it was or what direction he’d been traveling, and suggested that maybe the body had fallen onto his car from an overpass. Authorities confiscated his driver’s license, which was due to expire in 2010. According to a state report cited by the St. Petersburg Times, last year Florida had 270,000 licensed drivers aged 85 or older, of whom at least 20 percent suffered from mild to moderate dementia.

Compelling Explanations

In Seattle in October, Neelesh Phadnis was convicted of murdering his mother and father. The 24-year-old Phadnis had insisted on conducting his own defense, though he’d had no legal training, and the story he told the jury changed repeatedly throughout the trial. Initially he said he and his parents had been kidnapped and tortured by a small gang of 400-pound Samoans and their girlfriends; later the gang’s roster grew to include two whites, two blacks, a Native American, and possibly a transgendered person; on the final day of his testimony, Phadnis said he’d just remembered that there were about 15 more Samoans than he’d previously claimed, or about 30 armed Samoans in all.

Robert Blake, testifying in October in the wrongful-death suit brought against him by the family of his ex-wife Bonnie Lee Bakley, said the reason police found traces of gunshot residue on his hands after Bakley’s murder was because he regularly plays with cap guns, according to a report in the New York Post: “Without sounding like I’m pretty weird, I missed my childhood. . . . For me, cap guns bring it all back. If it makes me nuts, then label me.”

Recent Alarming Headlines About Toenails

“Woman Charged $1,133 to Clip Toenail” (a September Associated Press report on a class-action suit against a medical center in Seattle for allegedly excessive fees). Also: “Man Sues Over Leg Amputation After Ingrown Toenail” (another AP story in September, this one on a suit against a hospital in Waco, Texas, filed by a farmer who contracted a flesh-eating infection after his toenail was surgically removed).

The Litigious Society

Since 2002, Chicago lawyer Stephen Diamond has filed nearly 100 lawsuits against retailers for failing to charge him sales tax on items he bought online, according to an October Wall Street Journal report. By exploiting whistle-blower laws in Illinois and other states that allow citizens to receive part of the damages in instances of uncollected sales tax, he’s earned himself about $500,000 so far in settlements and judgments, with numerous cases still pending.

Creme de la Weird

Animal control officers in Torrance, California, raided the home of Gerard “Red” Enright in October and removed more than 100 pet carriers, all containing pigeons, that had been stacked throughout the house. About 120 of the pigeons were already dead, and 219 more were deemed too sick to survive and euthanized; only Enright’s favorite, named Twister, was spared and placed in quarantine. Two days earlier an official had visited the house and found the 61-year-old Enright, X-Acto knife in hand, performing surgery on a pigeon he’d anesthetized with a shot of vodka and some Anbesol. Enright is a lawyer, not a veterinarian, but said he’d watched his vet perform a similar procedure.

Bright Ideas

In October in Manchester, England, Stewart and Cathryn Bromley pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice to avoid paying a pair of speeding tickets. Their blue Mercedes had been caught on traffic camera, but the Bromleys claimed that the guilty driver had been a former employee of Stewart’s surveying business who had since returned to his home in Bulgaria. When investigators continued to express doubt that such a person existed, Cathryn flew to Sofia, Bulgaria, and mailed home a postcard ostensibly written by the employee that alluded to having driven the Bromleys’ car; they then presented this to police as evidence. They were ordered to pay the equivalent of $20,000, roughly 100 times the original fines for speeding.

Least Justifiable Homicides

Archie Roth, 68, was indicted for murder in Yorktown, Virginia, in May for allegedly killing his wife with a shovel; according to authorities, Roth said he’d been angry with her because they’d been living in their home for several years but still hadn’t unpacked. In July, 42-year-old Mark Raggiunti of Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the beating death of his father; he’d told police the attack began after his father, who was blind, yelled at him for leaving a light on. And Christopher Offord, 30, was sentenced to death in August in Panama City, Florida, for killing his wife with a hammer; she was nagging him to cuddle after sex when he wanted to watch sports on TV.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.