Lead Stories

In September, driving-school owner Bharat Patel became the 31st person convicted in a Chicago bribes-for-licenses scandal. According to testimony, Patel did not bother to teach, instead spending all his time with road test examiners. Some of Patel’s students were such bad drivers that certain examiners, who took $300,000 in bribes over two years, actually gave Patel his money back. Some subsequently licensed drivers did not know how to start a car or engage the transmission; others turned directly into traffic during the test. On occasion, terrified examiners halted the test midtrip and hitchhiked back to the station.

According to a September Wall Street Journal report, federal wildlife officials believe that the voracious and seemingly indestructible Asian swamp eel has made its way to within a mile of Florida’s Everglades National Park, posing an imminent threat to the park’s balance of nature. The three-foot-long eel apparently eats anything in its path, has no known enemies, survives in salt- and freshwater and on land, can change sexes to facilitate year-round breeding, lays 1,000 eggs at a time, and is so hardy that one once lived in a damp towel for seven months with no food or water.

Recent Nude Activities

Protesting taxes: actress Dziewanna rode, Lady Godiva-style, through Krakow, Poland, in July. Bicycling for charity: three men and a woman were arrested in Vernal, Utah, wearing only helmets, in July. Burglarizing a house: Dwight Mills, set off by the receipt of divorce papers, took off his clothes and broke into a neighbor’s house in Pensacola, Florida, also in July. Celebrating a soccer “victory”: in August, a nude fan joyously rushed the field in the final moments of a 2-1 game, but he apparently distracted his own Blackpool, England, team, because the opponent scored two quick goals to win 3-2.

The Litigious Society

Helene Canuel filed a lawsuit in August against the Rimouski, Quebec, Minor Hockey Association, asking for about $700 U.S. in damages because her 14-year-old son was benched by his coach in the play-offs. Canuel said she just wanted “justice for my son”; the coach was apparently more interested in surviving the single-elimination tournament.

In June, a school district in Orange County, California, was ordered by a jury to pay $1.4 million to Taylor Steiskal, age ten, who three years ago fell off his school’s monkey bars and broke his arm. Steiskal developed complications and has since required eight surgeries. His lawyers argued that monkey bars should be no higher than 72 inches off the ground, thus giving a few inches’ clearance for a 48-inch-tall boy hanging from his hands; the bars Steiskal fell from were 79 inches high.

Anne and Lucy Abolins filed a $4 million lawsuit in May against the owners of a house they formerly rented in Edmonton, Alberta, from which their 114 cats were confiscated by health inspectors, who ruled in June of 1999 that the feces-ridden dwelling was uninhabitable. The sisters say that their lives were ruined by the health inspectors and that the notoriety of the case has made it impossible for them to find new living quarters. (In August 2000, a judge fined the sisters about $3,500 U.S. for housing code violations, and Lucy Abolins called the SPCA “the Antichrist” for taking her cats away.)

In September, a jury in Tacoma, Washington, ordered the state Department of Corrections to pay $22 million to the family of a woman killed when a convicted felon on probation ran a red light and hit the woman’s car, concluding that the department ought to have somehow supervised the man better. The governor’s office said it would appeal the verdict, questioning the state’s ability to monitor the driving skills of its 55,000 probationers 24 hours a day.

Not My Fault

According to an August Associated Press report quoting lawyers close to the case, the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, plans to use the defense of “comparative fault” in lawsuits filed by two boys who claim to have been sexually molested by former priest Edward McKeown. Such a defense would allow the church to reduce its damages by showing that other people had knowledge of McKeown’s abuse and failed to warn authorities of it. Among those the church regards as culpable are 21 other victims who remained silent.

Paralyzed inmate Torrence Johnson filed a lawsuit in July against the Spartanburg, South Carolina, County Jail because guards failed to stop him in 1998 when he was doing back-flips off a desk in his cell, the last one of which resulted in his paralysis. Johnson claims guards should have been watching him more carefully because he had been diagnosed as depressed, although they say he appeared to be vigorous until he landed on his neck.

People Who Can’t Catch a Break

Mark Sims, 24, filed a lawsuit in August against the Ottawa, Ontario, Civil Hospital, alleging that a misdiagnosis of cancer caused a doctor to remove one of his testicles, which at that time was the size of a “baseball.” Sims now says it was obvious that the swollen testicle was not cancerous but merely the result of an office-party jaunt to a strip club, during which visit Sims found himself onstage with a dancer who “suddenly, without warning” whacked his scrotum. Sims contends that if the doctor had waited until his testicle shrank to its normal size, he would still have them both.

Recurring Themes

Last year, News of the Weird reported that a Bombay, India, collection agency had hired six eunuchs to hang around the homes and offices of obstinate debtors to embarrass them into paying up. According to a July 2000 report in London’s Guardian, the Tsaisheng credit agency in Taiwan has begun hiring AIDS patients at about $100 U.S. a day for the same purpose. According to the owner, many people in Taiwan still believe that AIDS is transmitted through social contact.

Least Competent Criminals

Sherman Lee Parks, 50, escaped from the Dallas County Jail in Fordyce, Arkansas, in August, unaware that a judge had just ordered his release; he was rearrested the next day, charged with escaping, and jailed. And in September, according to police in Shawnee, Kansas, a 19-year-old clerk at a Texaco Starmart reported that he had been robbed; actually he had looted his own cash register, taping over the store’s surveillance cameras to conceal the crime. However, he had used transparent tape. Said a police lieutenant, “It looks a little fuzzy, but I don’t see any robbery in there.”

In the Last Month

Health officials in Deltona, Florida, were mystified at the continued appearance of half-inch-long red worms in the tap of a woman’s home but after tests declared the water safe. A mayoral candidate in Vlore, Albania, promised that if elected he would re-open the city’s long-shuttered brothels. Officials in Cairo, Egypt, began implementing a 20-year program to relocate 21 cemeteries (with 109,000 graves) to the suburbs. When a Cleveland, Ohio, stripper on pretrial release argued that wearing an ankle monitor on stage would hamper her act, the judge relented and dropped the condition.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weird@compuserve.com.

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