Lead Stories

A January New York magazine story on Manhattan’s Animal Medical Center described state-of-the-art veterinary care such as kidney dialysis (at $55,000 a year), cataract removals, hip replacements, anterior cruciate ligament repairs, root canals, and brain surgery. The vets perform CPR on small animals by placing the animal’s head inside a doctor’s mouth. And the New York Times reported in January that veterinary care flourishes in Canada because the private sector runs it; one man, facing a long wait for an MRI at Ontario hospitals, quickly booked time at an animal hospital.

Cynthia Lane told reporters in February that she would file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission because Windsor Regional Hospital had labeled her Down’s syndrome child “FLK” on hospital charts, which several health care personnel told her was a commonly used term meaning “funny-looking kid.” Said the hospital’s chief of pediatrics, “A lot of parents dislike the term.”

Last Words

“Who wants old ugly Kevin Green, anyway?”: uttered by a 17-year-old Atlanta woman just before she was shot to death by Green’s other girlfriend, who was convicted in December. “Make me [stop humming Christmas carols]”: uttered in December by a 78-year-old man in Menlo Park, California, who was then strangled by his roommate. “I killed your dog”: a taunt from a 37-year-old woman in Whitelaw, Alberta, to her husband, who was holding a rifle and subsequently shot her to death, according to his December confession; she had already admitted having an affair with an old boyfriend.

Compelling Explanations

In December, after a four-year legal battle, the Texas supreme court invalidated VitaPro’s contract to supply the state prison system with a soybean meat substitute because of evidence that prisoners had suffered “adverse health effects, including rampant flatulence,” from the product.

Former pastor Eric Daniel Harris, 37, pleaded guilty in November to setting the 1996 fire that burned down the Kentucky Missionary Baptist Church in Saline County, Arkansas. According to a federal prosecutor, Harris said he did it because “there was a division among church members, and they needed a project to unify them.”

In October a Pennsylvania commonwealth court accepted driver John Carlin’s argument on appeal that it was impossible for him to comply with a police officer’s demand that he take a Breathalyzer test because he had to urinate so badly that he could not blow firmly into the device. Said Judge Rochelle Friedman, “The difficulty of such a task is obvious.” Officers wouldn’t let Carlin go to the bathroom until he consented to make the standard two blows; the first registered over the legal limit, and he refused to take the second.

According to reports of an NCAA investigation published in the Knoxville News-Sentinel in February, last year an official in the University of Tennessee English department claimed that a star football player plagiarized a class paper, but the university concluded that an athletic department tutor had merely misinterpreted the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. The tutor said she thought the act allowed her to discuss a class topic with a learning-disabled student and then draft a paper for him.

Not My Fault

Jack Ramsay, a member of the Canadian parliament who was convicted in November of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old girl when he was a member of the Mounties in 1969, said the crime “would never have happened” if the girl had not let him see her panties. Ramsay said recently that while questioning the girl, a crime victim, he asked her to demonstrate the concept of sexual intercourse so he could be sure she understood it, and that was when she unfastened her jeans. Ramsay has been ousted from the Reform Party but has not resigned his seat.

In recent months a New York woman and a Massachusetts woman received huge windfalls in their checking accounts due to data-processing errors. Both are fighting to keep the money, citing their banks’ incompetence. Susan Madakor, 40, has spent $230,000 of $700,000 that should have gone to a United Nations environmental agency, and Joan L. Phillips, a retired schoolteacher in Centerville, Massachusetts, has spent most of the $800,000 paid out since 1990, when her pension checks mysteriously increased from $800 a month to $8,000.

The family of 15-year-old Lance Landers said it would appeal a January Alabama court decision barring the “emotionally conflicted” student from public schools. His mother insists he be mainstreamed into the school system under the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, even though he has allegedly assaulted his mother, threatened to kill students, punched the driver of a moving school bus, spit in cafeteria food, thrown batteries at students, ranted during classes, and regularly addressed the principal with “Hello, motherfucker.”

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

Joseph Motyka, 32, was arrested on January 1 in Chicago and charged with child endangerment because he’d brought home a quarter stick of dynamite to celebrate the New Year. Motyka’s three-year-old daughter discovered it and lit it with a candle; the resultant explosion took off her right hand and caused hearing and vision loss.

Hard to Get Into Prison These Days

Matthew Harley, 27, sentenced to prison on weapons charges in 1995, surrendered at a courthouse in Portsmouth, Virginia, but was sent home, where he continued with his life until September 1999, when authorities finally came for him. Doris Preston, 74, sentenced to a minimum of five years for arson in 1991, went home to Columbus, Ohio, on bail but was not called back until September 1999. And in August, parole-violating rapist Gerald Bennett, 30, tried politely to surrender at the police station in Glenolden, Pennsylvania, but was turned away because of a records glitch and remained free for six more days, during which time, according to police, he killed one woman and raped another.

Least Competent Criminals

Miguel Avalos-Rivera, 28, was arrested in Fairfax, Virginia, in November after being found screaming in pain in a car; his hand had gotten stuck in the dashboard as he tried to steal the stereo, and he had broken three of his fingers. And Jimmy Cooksey, 36, also was discovered screaming in pain in Dallas in October; sheriff’s deputies said he was shocked with 36,000 volts after he tried to steal electricity by connecting power lines with a homemade pole. Cooksey was burned so badly that he lost both legs and is still hospitalized.

In the Last Month

A couple parked in a lovers’ lane in Louden County, Virginia, were so startled by an approaching sheriff’s cruiser that they abruptly drove off and landed in the Potomac River; they were rescued. A seven-year-old girl in Brasilia was stabbed 25 times (not life threateningly) by a playmate emulating Chucky in Child’s Play 2, which he had seen three days earlier. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, a rapist sentenced to two life terms plus 110 years asked the judge for a lethal injection, saying, “I can’t do that much time.” A drug-dealing couple in Evansville, Indiana, were arrested for trying to collect a $40 debt by dangling a guy out a window while the woman bit his testicles. A math teacher in Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for forcing a 13-year-old boy to take his rest room break in a classroom trash can.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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