Lead Story

In February near Lake Jackson, Texas, unemployed tree cutter Louis Paul Kadlecek, who’d been on a four-day drinking binge to celebrate his 21st birthday, broke into 16 hangars at Brazoria County Airport and commandeered two small aircraft. Though he’d never been in a plane before, he taxied around in a two-seater, abandoned it, and then took to the air in a Cessna 172 with a pilot’s manual open on the passenger’s seat. He meant to fly to Mexico, but about a mile away he struck a set of high-voltage lines 100 feet off the ground. The crash (and subsequent fall) totaled the plane, but Kadlecek walked away unharmed and was arrested two days later. One Brazoria County aviation official guessed that a stunt pilot would survive such an impact one time in a thousand; another commented, “This guy used up all the luck he is ever going to have.”

People Different From Us

In the April 2003 issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, two Seattle radiologists described a case of bowel obstruction in a 35-year-old man who was suffering from severe abdominal pain but had normal vital signs. He was found to have the heads of several Barbie dolls lodged in his small intestine, and explained that he’d been swallowing them because he liked the feeling he got when he passed them. The doctors offered tips on distinguishing doll heads from other objects in X-ray images, then advised other radiologists to “keep in mind that human imagination may not follow clinical algorithms.”

Our Litigious Society

In February in New York City, freelance photographer Robert Levin filed a $50 million lawsuit against Waste Management and one of its drivers for the brain damage and other injuries he suffered while trying to take photographs at Ground Zero in December 2001. Levin had surreptitiously climbed atop one of the company’s garbage trucks, looking for a better vantage point, when the unwitting driver pulled away and pitched him off–which Levin’s lawyer characterizes as a “failure to respect the plaintiff’s rights as a pedestrian.”

New York state police have determined that on the morning of April 29, 2003, 17-year-old Stephen Pappadake was driving 80 mph in a 30 mph zone and passing other cars illegally (crossing a double yellow line into oncoming traffic) when he lost control of his car and fatally crashed. In January of this year Pappadake’s parents filed a lawsuit against the last driver their son passed, who they claim veered to the left as he was overtaking her and caused the accident.

On July 7, 2001, in Duluth, Minnesota, someone poured several pounds of dish soap into the fountain in Canal Park, producing an eight-foot mountain of suds that spilled out onto the pavement. The city learned of the prank at around six in the morning but was slow to clean up the park or rope off the slippery area; four hours later 57-year-old Kathy J. Kelly ventured too close to the fountain and fell, suffering injuries that eventually became gangrenous. She sued the city for negligence, and last month a jury ruled in her favor, finding that 30 percent of the fault was hers but 70 percent was the city’s. (Jurors were not permitted to assign blame to the prankster.)

Well Put

In February the chief justice of Singapore, 77-year-old Yong Pung How, rejected pleas for leniency from a 25-year-old former policeman who’d been arrested for receiving oral sex. The defendant argued that defining oral sex as a crime “against the law of nature” is anachronistic, but Yong sentenced him to a year in jail, opining that strict standards of decency are a valuable part of Singapore’s culture. “There are countries where you can go and suck away for all you are worth,” the justice said, “but this is Asia.”

Least Competent Criminal

In March in Redmond, Washington, 43-year-old Sandy L. Warren was arrested and charged with stealing an eight-ton articulated boom lift (or “cherry picker”) from a dealer in town; an employee of the dealership had spotted the cherry picker parked in Warren’s front yard with a for-sale sign on it (“New–$28,990 OBO”).

Undignified Deaths

In December near Eudora, Arkansas, an 18-year-old man was trying to drown his pit bull, which he thought had gotten too old and docile, in a hole inside a disused cotton gin that had filled with water and diesel fuel; instead he fell in himself and drowned. His father, summoned by a cousin who’d been along to help kill the dog, jumped in to rescue the man and also drowned. (The dog survived.)

In the Last Month

Geneticists from all over the world headed for the village of Mohammad Pur Umri in India after a local daily paper publicized the fact that one in every ten births there in recent years has produced twins (the rate worldwide is 1 in 300). And in Montpellier, France, a 35-year-old motorist, traumatized by the Madrid bombings, tried to run down a pedestrian he thought resembled Osama bin Laden (the car instead struck a stairway, and the driver was slapped with a three-month suspended sentence and a fine).

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