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News Quirks 08.23.06 

Curses, Foiled Again Police said that Pierre Barton, 20, tried to rob a Cleveland pizza place by waving a gun in the manager's face. When he dropped the weapon, which turned out to be two sticks taped together and covered with a black cloth, he hastily grabbed the bulky cash register, containing $800, and ran off with it. While fleeing, Barton dropped his holdup script, written on two index cards: "Give me the money" and "Tell I'll kill your family." The manager gave chase, despite Barton's warning that he would shoot him, even though he no longer had even a fake weapon, and cornered him until police arrived.

Lest We Remember Although 95 percent of the people who responded to a Washington Post poll knew that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon occurred on September 11, 30 percent couldn't remember the year or got it wrong. Of those 30 percent, almost half were 55 or older. Sixteen percent were college graduates.

Looking for Loopholes Lawyers for Phillip E. Elmore, 43, who admitted killing his girlfriend and was sentenced to death, argued before the Ohio Supreme Court that their client shouldn't be executed because the trial judge rejected jurors' request for cigarette breaks during deliberations. "A capital trial is supposed to be a considered process," Keith A. Yeazel, one of the lawyers, said. "Jurors shouldn't be trying to speed up the process so they can go outside and smoke a Kool cigarette."

We're All Bozos on This Bus An annual British rock festival changed its circus theme after learning that a number of its ticket-holders are afraid of clowns. Last year's Bestival, which featured a cowboys-and-Indians theme, broke a world record for the biggest fancy dress party when 10,000 people turned up in Wild West disguises, but this year, organizers feared thousands of clowns in one place at the September event could spark mass panic. "We have had so many people with clown phobias contact us," BBC Radio One disc jockey Rob Da Bank said, "I am worried everyone might end up hiding in the woods."

--Police in Arcata, Calif., arrested Aaron Ray Holland, 34, after receiving reports of a man trying to withdraw money from an automatic teller machine in Valley West while wearing a clown mask. After tracking Holland to his residence, officers found stolen bank and credit cards, as well as Holland's wallet, dumped behind his home. "If you're trying to get away with something," Officer Bob Martinez said, "wearing a clown mask on a Monday afternoon in Valley West is not the way to do it."

Fill-Up Follies During a gasoline giveaway in Milwaukee, two vehicles crashed, several arguments and fights occurred, four people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges, and three police officers were sent to the hospital. Allstate Insurance sponsored the event to reward the city for its safe-driving record. Noting that the giveaway attracted a 2-mile line of vehicles by the time Andy's gas station opened at 6 a.m., police official Anne E. Schwartz said, "You never know what's going to happen when you give away free gas."

Lousy Gas Mileage Is the Least of Their Problems Federal highway safety investigators are studying 26 complaints that the front wheels of the 2003 model Hummer H2 sport utility vehicle fell off for no apparent reason. The first person to report the problem was Mark Glover, the auto editor of the Sacramento Bee, who told the government that his test-drive of a yellow 2003 H2 ended abruptly when the vehicle veered suddenly to the left and crashed in the newspaper's parking lot. Photos by a Bee photographer showed a scraped light pole and a wheel 15 feet away. Suspecting that a part called the steering knuckle, which holds the steering arms in place near the front tires, may have caused H2 suspensions to collapse or their wheels to separate, engineers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also are examining data about 61 steering-knuckle failures on three-quarter-ton GM Suburban and Avalanche pickup trucks.

The Medium Is the Message A Florida-based blimp company said it has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch a new lighter-than-air craft featuring a 70-by-30-foot LED screen that will flash commercials from the air. "It totally rises above the clutter," said Toby Page, marketing director of the Lightship Group in Orlando. Company officials would not identify the flying billboard's first client, which paid $5 million for a yearlong campaign, but said the craft will first be deployed overseas. They added that besides commercials, the A-170 can flash sports highlights and movie trailers.

--Homeland Security officials in Indiana warned Vermillion County to stop using electronic emergency message boards to advertise fish fries, spaghetti dinners and other community events. Homeland Security bought the 11 signs for $300,000 to flash evacuation routes for drivers in case of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, but sponsors of a spaghetti dinner fundraiser and an elementary school carnival reported larger-than-usual turnouts after message-board ads. "We run the county," Tim Wilson, president of the County Commissioners, declared. "We make decisions to run the county on what's best for us."

--US Airways announced plans to sell advertisements on its air-sickness bags. "They're in every seat-back pocket," airline official Phil Gee said. "We figure it's there, why don't we make it multipurpose?" Michael Boyd, president of an aviation-consulting group, said the scheme could get a lot of mileage because "people aren't barfing as much in planes as they used to."

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Roland Sweet

Roland Sweet is the author of the syndicated column "News Quirks," which appears weekly in Seven Days.


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