Lead Story

Cliches come to life: In April 20-year-old Jesse Maggrah was walking alongside train tracks in Red Deer, Alberta, while listening on headphones to the Norwegian metal band Gorgoroth when he was hit from behind by a freight train and flung about 15 feet. On looking up to see the train rolling to a halt, Maggrah told the Canadian Press, he thought, “Holy crap, dude, you just got hit by a train.” According to authorities the train crew saw him up ahead and slammed on the brakes (slowing to about 30 miles per hour by impact) and blew the whistle repeatedly, but Maggrah said he didn’t hear anything over the music till the last second. Hospitalized with relatively minor injuries, including broken ribs and a punctured lung, he said, “Maybe the metal gods above were smiling on me, and they didn’t want one of their true warriors to die on them.”

Government in Action

A Texas jury decided in 1991 that Steven Kenneth Staley should be put to death for murdering a restaurant manager, but six days before his February 2006 execution date Judge Wayne Salvant granted him a stay, having heard doctors’ testimony that his mental illness would keep him from understanding why he was being killed. Prosecutors then moved to force the 43-year-old Staley to take antipsychotic medication that might make him competent, and in April Salvant granted the motion (but gave Staley’s lawyer time to appeal). Though a federal appeals court ruled in 2003 that an Arkansas prison could forcibly medicate an otherwise uncontrollable convict, which ultimately made him eligible to be executed, the Texas case may be the first in which prosecutors have obtained an order to make someone take medication for the express purpose of carrying out his death sentence.

In April the Cincinnati Enquirer provided an update on Robin Sutton and Allan Lade, who last summer were denied permission by the board of zoning appeals in Anderson Township, Ohio, to put a six-foot-high cedar fence around their side yard, despite the near-unanimous support of their neighbors. In response Sutton and Lade set up 15 toilets along the proposed fence line, and, according to a local official, eight months later there’s still nothing the zoning board can do about it.

According to newspapers in the Florida Keys, the new central sewer system in the village of Islamorada was set to start working earlier this month, but in order for it to operate to state standards a minimum level of sewage flow would be required. As of late March not enough residents had arranged to disconnect from their septic tanks and hook up to the system, and officials were considering the possibility of having to buy out-of-town sewage to supplement the village’s own.

Are we safe yet? An April report by the Government Accountability Office found that some private security companies contracted since 9/11 to protect key U.S. military installations had hired numerous felons as guards and kept faulty records, and that the army had failed to fix its “inadequate” screening process for the guards despite three years of warnings. And in the same month Nashville’s Tennessean reported that until March state employee Daniel Erickson, 45, had overseen purchasing for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency; Erickson, who got in the door at TEMA through a work-release program and was promoted without a background check, is still serving eight years for trying to hire a hit man to help kill his wife, allegedly for the insurance money.

Last year New York governor George Pataki warned against unrestrained pork spending by state legislators with a scornful reference to “cheese museums”–an allusion to the New York State Museum of Cheese in Rome, New York, which has been derided as a boondoggle since the 80s. This year, the New York Times reported in April, $5,000 of taxpayer money in a fund controlled by Pataki went to the southwest New York town of Cuba to help it build its own cheese museum.

Can’t Possibly Be True

Authorities in Dresden, Germany, charged 47-year-old Petra Kujau with fraud in April for allegedly selling at least 500 copies of famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa and works by Monet, through an online auction site. Buyers knew they weren’t getting the originals–the paintings were advertised as fakes painted by Kujau’s late great-uncle Konrad Kujau, a prolific forger best known for the fake Hitler diaries he briefly passed off as real in the 1980s. But police said these paintings weren’t real Kujaus either: Petra allegedly bought them in bulk from art schools in Asia, then forged Konrad’s signature on them (he’d started signing his fakes after serving jail time for the Hitler fraud) and sold them as his work for as much as $4,500 apiece.

Least Competent Criminals

After his arrest in April for attempted kidnapping and impersonating an officer, Benjamin Thornburg reportedly told authorities in suburban Houston that he’d tried more than 100 times to abduct young girls through subterfuge but had never once been successful. In the incident that got him caught, the 20-year-old Thornburg allegedly tried to convince a nine-year-old girl that he was a police officer and the toy she had with her could not legally be held by someone waiting for a school bus. Apparently not buying it, the girl broke out of his grasp, ran home, and was later able to describe him.

Above-Average Kids

News agencies reported earlier this month on Budhia Singh of Bhubaneswar, India, who, accompanied by a squad of police officers and doctors, ran 65 kilometers (40 miles) in seven hours and two minutes but collapsed before completing his planned 70-kilometer route. Singh is four years old.

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