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News Quirks 10.04.06 

Curses, Foiled Again Police responding to a robbery alarm at an Orlando, Fla., bank had no trouble identifying Kenneth Ray Brooks as their suspect after witnesses said they saw his pants shoot fire. Besides his obvious discomfort, officers noticed that both his hands were bright red from a dye pack hidden in the stolen money. It exploded after the suspect stuffed a stack of bills down his waistband into his crotch, according to Sgt. Barbara Jones, who added, "Witnesses said they could see smoke coming out of his pants."

Not So Much Getaway as Bumble-away A gunman wearing a Ronald Reagan mask and a cape managed to rob a San Diego bank in spite of himself. For starters, the San Diego Union Tribune reported, the mask obscured the robber's view, and the cape got tangled with his gun, causing him to drop the weapon. He picked it up and robbed one of the tellers, but when he ran out of the bank, he found his getaway vehicle, a Chevy Suburban, blocked in by trucks making morning deliveries. "He started ramming the trucks back and forth, back and forth," police Lt. Lawrence McKinney said. "He was calling more attention to himself." The robber managed to force his way out of the parking spot, but the dye pack hidden in the money exploded. He abandoned the vehicle and ran off, leaving behind his mask, his gun and a $50 bill. "He obviously had a flair for the dramatic," McKinney said, "but he didn't execute it right."

Homeland Insecurity A month after the Transportation Security Administration hailed its new explosives-detection devices, called puffers, as "state-of-the-art machines," TSA officials said that they intend to divert $20 million originally allocated for the machines to instead improve X-ray technology. Officials told the Washington Post that the puffers, which analyze bursts of air blown at passengers to determine whether they have come into contact with explosives, break down too often because their sensors get clogged with dust in busy airports. The $160,000 devices, 93 of which have been installed at more than 30 airports, also can't detect liquid explosives. X-rays can't either, but improvements will let screeners see contents in 3-D, so they can tell whether an image might be a container capable of carrying explosives.

Candid Cameras British authorities charged Craig Moore, 28, with blowing up a highway camera that caught him speeding in the Hyde area of Manchester. Although the camera itself was heavily damaged by the explosives, the recording equipment in its base wasn't. It contained images of Moore speeding and then returning to destroy the evidence. He was sentenced to four months in jail.

* An unidentified Dallas man, who was using a live camera link on the Internet to look at Mathew Street, an area of Liverpool, England, associated with The Beatles, foiled intruders that he spotted breaking into a sports store. "He called directly to police here," said a Merseyside Police official, adding that officers dispatched to the scene arrested three suspects.

Conspiracy-Theory Update NASA reported that it has lost the original recording of the first moon landing and Neil Armstrong's moon walk, along with 700 boxes of transmissions from the Apollo lunar missions. "We haven't seen them for quite a while," space-agency official Grey Hautaloma said. "We've been looking for over a year, and they haven't turned up." He assured reporters that NASA had reliable backups for the tapes "in one form or another."

Victim of the Week A mother accused of killing her 3-year-old daughter in Michigan's Ypsilanti Township told authorities that she didn't know when to stop hitting the child because she never said "ouch." Sheriff's Detective Craig Raisanen also said that LaToya Joplin, 29, told him "she was the one who was abused when she disciplined Kayla, because she would strike her to the point that her hand was throbbing. She was the one to endure pain. She blamed her daughter."

Offspring Alert The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently advised women not to have commercial ultrasound movies made of their unborn babies, according to New Scientist magazine, while states such as California have tried imposing stricter regulations on non-medical scans, such as those offered to expectant mothers in shopping malls for $200. Now researchers have revealed that boutique ultrasound tracking holds the potential for harm. Pasko Rakic of Yale University medical school and his colleagues found that unnecessary non-medical scans disrupted brain development in mice.

Cure Worse Than the Gloom People going through withdrawal from antidepressant medication develop symptoms worse than depression. Two of the best-selling antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, prompted so many complaints that their makers took them off the market. Meanwhile, after-effects of different drugs have given rise to antidepressant-discontinuation syndrome. Symptoms include flu-like nausea, muscle aches, uncontrollable crying, dizziness and diarrhea. Many patients suffer "brain zaps," bizarre and briefly overwhelming electrical sensations in the head. Victims feel disoriented and terrified. Some believe they are suffering from seizures.

Hardly Worth the Wait Police in Grant County, Ind., reported that as many as 15 people walked into a Taco Bell wearing masks, all at the same time. They brought with them six 40-gallon trash bags filled with 25,000 individual packets of taco sauce. According to Deputy Police Chief Cliff Sessoms, a note with the bags, which weighed 400 pounds, said the group had been saving the condiment packets for the past three years, storing them in the trunk of a car, trying to think of a practical joke to use them for. Sessoms said the prank they finally came up with was "not a very funny one because you've got that number of people coming in here with their faces covered up." No charges were filed, Sessoms added, because no crime was committed.

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Roland Sweet

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

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