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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again Police identified Steven Clay Stephenson, 34, as the suspect they say tried to rob a convenience store in Inwood, W.Va., by covering his face with women's blue panties and brandishing a pistol-shaped cigarette lighter. The clerk thought it was a joke, however, and refused to hand over any money. The frustrated crook drove off in a Jeep Cherokee, which police spotted and stopped a few minutes later.

Real Virtuality Declaring she wanted to embrace Buddhist principles of "releasing attachment to things," Lisa Perry, 45, of St. Paul, Minn., listed all her possessions on the auction website eBay. When bidding topped out at $880, well below her $2,000 reserve, she broke up the 300-plus items into smaller lots. The bidding reached $2,325, but when Perry posted her intention to give any money above her reserve to the family of a soldier killed in action, eBay, which discourages charity auctions, canceled her sale. She listed the items again, but again the highest bid was $880.

* After a classified ad posted on the website Craigslist invited people to take anything they wanted from a rental home in Tacoma, Wash., within hours the property had been stripped of everything, including light fixtures, water heater, vinyl windows, front door and the kitchen sink. Landlord Laurie Raye, who had evicted the previous tenant, told KING-TV that the ad was bogus.

* Thieves stole $52,000 from a bank in Leeds, England, while the two after-hours security guards were playing the computer video game "Virtual Woman Millennium". The website Article Codex reported that detectives said routine surveillance would have uncovered the crime, apparently the work of opportunistic amateurs. One of the guards blamed the security lapse on the boring nature of the job. A computer-usage monitor showed the guards had been running the game for more than five hours.

Fire Follies Fred Schloetzer admitted accidentally starting a fire in his garage in Orange County, Fla., when a spark from his welding iron landed on a nearby gas can. The flames had covered the house by the time firefighters arrived, but their efforts were hindered by ammunition stored in the garage that exploded from the fire. "When we had that amount of fire and the ammunition going off," Battalion Chief Reggie Price said, "we changed into defensive mode." Neighbor Zach Meyers told Local 6 News, "The booms were like a war zone."

* Responding to a fire alarm at a San Francisco pizza parlor, police Officers Carl Payne and Cathy Daly found an 80-year-old man inside. He admitted setting the fire, explaining that he had gone into the bathroom about 3 a.m., but when he returned, everyone had left and the doors were locked. He started the fire so the Fire Department would come and let him out. When asked about money missing from the restaurant's register, he pulled a wad of cash from his pocket, insisting he had saved it from the flames. The officers booked him for arson and burglary.

Scam-a-Rama Federal authorities accused Robert Dooley of stealing $330,000 in merchandise from Home Depot stores in nine states and then returning the items for store credit. According to papers filed in Boston federal court, Dooley, a former clerk with the Internal Revenue Service, took advantage of store policy that let customers return merchandise without a receipt if they showed photo identification. Prosecutors said Dooley gathered the merchandise in the stores and took it directly to the returns counter without paying, then showed his IRS badge, pointing out that as an IRS employee, he was "trustworthy." The stores issued credit in the form of plastic cards, which Dooley would then sell or trade.

Printer Friendly Hewlett-Packard is working to encourage people to print more web pages, according to The New York Times, which reported the company recently bought Tabblo, a company that develops software to create templates that reorganize photos and text blocks on a webpage to fit standard sizes of printer paper. H.P. wants to make the software the printing standard of the web. Even though its competitors would benefit, H.P., which sells half the world's printers but makes its profits selling ink and toner, would reap more.

Legal Briefs An Italian underwear maker accused Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf of illegally trading on the company's good name. Calzificio Pinelli, which sells underwear under the trademark Solidea, said that the royal family's summer palace, Solliden, breaches its trademark. The palace was built in 1906, but its name was registered as a trademark only two years ago, prompting the complaint. The Italian company's lawyer, Lottie-Ann Hulth, insisted "the trademarks are nearly identical, both phonetically and visually," but after a two-year investigation, Sweden's Patent and Registration Office dismissed the company's complaint.

The Wrong Stuff A Chinese amateur pilot who spent $3883 to build his own ultra-light aircraft crashed on its maiden flight, breaking his chin and a leg. Li Xianfeng, 30, who taught himself to fly by reading books and spent all his spare time and money making model planes and later real ones, hovered about 150 feet above the ground for two minutes before plowing into fields on the outskirts of Beijing. Even so, he declared his flight "partly successful" and vowed to "continue flying until I can make a perfect landing.

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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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