Lead Story

In 1995 Charles R. Grady filed a lawsuit against Frito-Lay after he suffered an esophageal tear when several Doritos lodged in his throat. For years he’s been seeking the court’s permission to introduce as evidence a study performed at his behest by a retired University of Pittsburgh chemical engineering professor, who measured the downward force and quantity of saliva necessary to swallow a Dorito and found the chips to be dangerously hard and sharp. A lower court disallowed the study, complaining that it “smacked of a high school science fair project,” but Grady appealed; in December the Pennsylvania supreme court likewise sided with Frito-Lay, saying that the professor’s testing methods were not “generally accepted” in the scientific community.

Least Competent Criminal

In January in Vancouver, Washington, 24-year-old Trilane A. Ludwig called his mother from jail and told her to fetch $500 from his wallet, which the police had given her for safekeeping, and come bail him out. The money was all in shoddy counterfeit bills (they were actually the wrong size), but both Ludwig and his mother claimed they hadn’t known it was fake–he said he’d got the cash from a man who’d bought a car from him, but when pressed he couldn’t come up with the buyer’s name.

Our Litigious Society

In January in Mount Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania, Brenda and Ronald Sager sued Wal-Mart after a plastic grocery bag broke open and its contents fell on Brenda’s foot. (She’s asking for $30,000 for her injuries, and Ronald claims he’s entitled to an equal amount in damages due to “loss of consortium.”) The Sagers claim that the bag was not only overloaded but defective; it contained a 32-ounce jar of Miracle Whip, a 46-ounce bottle of ketchup, three 15-ounce cans of fruit, an 18-ounce bottle of ranch dressing, and a 12-ounce jar of mustard.

In August in Edinburgh, Scotland, retired police officer George Gilfillan won about $157,000 in damages in his suit against Alexander Barbour, whose vehicle he’d struck with his patrol car while in pursuit of a drunk driver in March 2000. Gilfillan claims he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression (in addition to his neck injuries) because the accident killed Barbour’s wife; he won the money even though the judge said he’d been driving “much too fast.”

Courtroom Follies

According to a January report in London’s Daily Telegraph, practitioners of Santeria have become a problematic presence in Miami-area courtrooms: friends of the defendant in a recent federal case repeatedly spread good-luck dust on the chair and evidence file of the prosecuting attorney, who complained that his dry-cleaning bills were becoming “worryingly onerous,” and officers at several state courthouses have had to clean up the remains of sacrificed chickens and goats, as well as “mysterious candle formations.” In another recent case, Haitian defendant Emmanuel Etienne, accused of killing his wife and then turning the gun on himself, claimed that he and his victim had both been shot by her first husband, who had the power to turn himself into a headless donkey by “expelling three flatulents.”

Another Geographic Center of Weird

Tampa, Florida: In November Terry Lee Crouch, 29, accidentally backed his car over his six-year-old son while playing a game with him: the boy would ride on the rear bumper while Crouch stopped and started the car and threw it into reverse, trying to dislodge him. In October in nearby New Port Richey, a 400-pound man fell to his waist through the floor of his trailer at the Orangewood Lakes Mobile Home Community; the manager of the trailer park guessed the man had been stuck for two days, but a neighbor who claimed to have called on him during the ordeal said his offer of help had been rebuffed. And in January in Largo, police said a 41-year-old woman had offered to pay three teenagers $20 to come beat up her 16-year-old son (but asked them to be careful with the furniture).


In December a federal judge rejected the latest appeal of David Cobb, 66, a former teacher at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, who was arrested in New Hampshire in 1995 while walking with a 12-year-old and carrying a knapsack full of child porn; his usual MO had been to seduce kids by dressing as “Pumpkin Man” and encouraging them to fondle him. He’d challenged his child pornography convictions by explaining that some of the nude photos in his bag were actually of adults, and that he’d meticulously glued onto their bodies the heads of children cut out of clothing catalogs.

In the Last Month

In Long Beach, California, a cleaning crew forgot to turn out the lights or lock the doors at a Bank of the West branch, and a customer had the whole place to himself when he came by on the Martin Luther King holiday. (He notified the police.) In South Brunswick, New Jersey, officers ticketed a 19-year-old for careless driving after he ran into an ambulance at a red light; he was distracted because he’d been reading a speeding ticket he’d just received. And a bill was introduced in the Indiana legislature permitting inmates serving life without parole to choose execution instead.

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