Lead Stories

In September officials in Pinellas County, Florida, unveiled a new traffic-safety program that they hope will become a model for reducing pedestrian deaths and defusing road rage. The program asks pedestrians to extend their right hands (as if shaking hands) and smile continuously when crossing an intersection, to alert drivers to their presence. When told about the program by a Saint Petersburg Times reporter, a resident of Clearwater said, “Nobody is going to walk across the street with their arm out. I’m not going to do it. Are you?”

In October the Seattle newsweekly the Stranger reported that Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries had begun investigating Clublove, a Seattle company that broadcasts live sex acts over the Internet. The investigation will focus on, among other things, whether models are receiving the state-required one-hour break per eight-hour shift and allegations that female performers must share an unsterilized plastic dildo.

DUI: The Next Level

In separate incidents in the same week in September, Debra Rodriguez, 41, of Ames, Iowa, and Kristin R. Smebak, 34, of Superior, Wisconsin, both of whom had been drinking, forced their young children to drive them home. Rodriguez’s 11-year-old daughter caused a rollover, injuring both herself and her mother, but Smebak’s 8-year-old son made it safely over the bridge connecting Duluth, Minnesota, to Superior before being spotted by a patrolman, who arrested Smebak.

Compelling Explanations

According to police in Fairfax, Virginia, who arrested high school math teacher Fred Benevento, 47, in April during a drug sting, Benevento said the 13 plastic bags of crack cocaine in his car “came flying through his open window” and that he “was just looking at them when the police officers arrived.”

Failed murder defenses: In May the supreme court of Canada ruled five to four to reject Brad Stone’s defense that he stabbed his wife 47 times because he was in a robotic state brought on by the trauma of being called a bedroom failure. And in June an Atlanta jury rejected Christopher Stobbart’s claim of self-defense for killing his boss. Stobbart shot him in the head 14 times, went to another room to reload, then came back and shot him 10 more times.

In July, just after the end of the war, Yugoslavia’s ecology minister said the uncomfortably warm and rainy spring and summer weather was caused by NATO aggression. And in May a mother in Saint Cloud, Florida, told police that she let her teenage daughters smoke marijuana so they wouldn’t become alcoholics like their father. And Yuji Nishizawa, who hijacked an All Nippon Airways jet in July and killed the pilot before being captured, told police that playing flight-simulation video games had made him curious about how a real plane flew.

West German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer, writing in the weekly Die Zeit in July, blamed East Germans’ proclivities for joining neo-Nazi groups (they are four times more likely to do so than West Germans) on the way they were potty trained. After World War II, the East German government issued manuals on toilet training, with rigid steps that Pfeiffer says stripped the kids of their individuality and reinforced government control.

The Litigious Society

In September in Aberdeen, Scotland, Muriel Milne’s suit against the Westhill Golf Club for maintaining a badly designed course went to trial. In 1994 her ball struck a two-inch-high rock and bounced back, hitting her in the eye and causing severe damage.

In Stockholm, Jimmy Haakansson filed a lawsuit against police in September for failing to prevent him from leaping through a window of the courthouse, where he’d been awaiting trial on his theft charge, and breaking his foot. One week earlier, in Roseville, Michigan, Cassidy L. VanHorn filed a lawsuit against home owner Diana Folbigg, whose house he had broken into in July 1997. According to the lawsuit, Folbigg lured VanHorn back to the house the next day, saying all was forgiven, but when he arrived, several of Folbigg’s friends beat him up.

Alcohol Was Involved

According to a Cox News Service report in August, 21 people, most of them very intoxicated men, were fatally run over last year in North Carolina while lying in the middle of the road. A few days later, the British Health Education Authority announced that 43 people, most of them drunk, died last year in house fires after they tried to fry chips late at night.

Animals With Unusual Tastes

Police in Fall River, Massachusetts, have been unable to identify the dog owner who trained his pit bull to sharpen its teeth on trees, causing the deaths of more than 30 of them in a city park since May. In July an Irish wolfhound freed itself during a United Airlines flight to San Francisco and gnawed through wires connected to the landing gear, but pilots landed the plane safely. Also in July, after a police officer in Spanish Fort, Alabama, pepper-sprayed an alligator, the gator bit a $500 chunk out of the officer’s cruiser.


Last year News of the Weird named John Ronald Brown “Chief Surgeon to the Weird” upon learning that after his license was revoked for incompetence in 1977, he became the underground surgeon of choice for apotemnophiliacs, people who get sexual gratification from having a limb removed. However, one of his patients died, and in October a San Diego jury found Brown guilty of second-degree murder. That same week, Miami Beach’s Reinaldo Silvestre, who had never had a license, was arrested after botching several plastic surgeries, including one in which he used a spatula to cram breast implants into a former Mr. Universe runner-up who was expecting pectoral implants.

The Only Way Out

Insufficient reasons to kill yourself: Husband changed the TV channel (woman in Colombo, Sri Lanka, took poison, May); minor car accident (19-year-old man immediately hung himself from the tree he hit, in Flint, Michigan, April); police showed a man a court order to clean up his junky yard (man shot himself in Brickerville, Pennsylvania, March).

In the Last Month

Quebec bureaucrats ordered an agricultural center to stop giving its cows “human female names” so as not to offend women. A lake-restoration project near Disney World caused several neighborhoods to be overrun by half a million mice. In London, Ontario, Colin Linge, 54, retired after 29 years and 50,000 hours as a firefighter, without fighting a single fire. Fourteen worshipers seeking eternal salvation in Abuja, Nigeria, were crushed to death when a crowd surged to touch a visiting evangelist. A bank in Fountain Valley, California, informed a customer that, because of several mergers and relocations, it had lost his safe-deposit box containing $250,000 in family heirlooms.

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

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