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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again

Belgian authorities said two robbers overestimated how much dynamite it would take to blow open a cash machine in Dinant. The blast caused the building behind the ATM to collapse and killed both robbers. Bank officials said they wouldn’t have gotten any money anyway, since the ATMs are designed to implode when forced open and destroy all the cash inside.

Other Belgian authorities said a thief who robbed a shoe store in Maldegem didn’t get far. Police official Rik Decraemer told Reuters that police quickly identified him as a one-legged Russian asylum seeker from the description storekeepers gave and because he stole only one shoe. Officers promptly arrested the suspect with the shoe.

Ivy League Follies

Harvard University lost nearly $2 billion last year by investing the money it uses to pay for its daily operations in its endowment fund instead of keeping it in safer bank accounts. Typically, the Boston Globe noted after the university’s disclosure, institutions manage their cash accounts conservatively in order to have funds readily available. Harvard’s move had paid off in previous years, when the stock market was rising, according to the school’s chief financial officer, Daniel S. Shore, but now the endowment has lost 27 percent, dropping to $26 billion.

A Buddhist university in Seoul, Korea, accused Yale University of “reckless” and “wanton” conduct for saying it awarded a PhD to a job candidate who subsequently turned out not to have the degree. The New York Times reported the confirmation letter to Dongguk University was a fake but that the Yale administrator whose name was on it confirmed its authenticity by fax, apparently without checking Yale’s records or even noticing that the administrator’s own name was misspelled. Two years later, Yale announced that the candidate, well-known artist Shin Jeong-ah, had no degree, but denied it had ever received the earlier inquiry or sent a confirmation letter. Jeong-ah resigned. Later Yale admitted it had done everything Dongguk said it did but only “in the rush of business.” When Dongguk finally filed a lawsuit, Yale accused the school of trying “to shift the blame for its own inadequate efforts on Yale.”

Too Fat to Kill

Edward Ates, 62, couldn’t have killed his son-in-law, his attorney, Walter Lesnevich declared, because he’s too fat. Lesnevich said his 5-foot-8, 285-pound client was too out of shape to climb and descend the stairs where police said the killer was perched when he shot Paul Duncsak, 40, in Ramsey, N.J. “You look at Ed, and you don’t need to hear it from a doctor,” Lesnevich told reporters but admitted Ates has hurt his case with the jury by losing 40 pounds while in jail awaiting trial. “It visually impacts it,” he said. “I’m probably the only person in his life that told him not to lose weight.”

Human Torches

Irish authorities accused Roy Martin Kerr, 31, and Tanya Diana Holmes, 21, of trying to kill a Belfast doctor and his family “by setting fires in the middle of the night around every exit from their home.” BBC News reported Kerr and Holmes were about to burn the family’s cars when Kerr accidentally set himself on fire. His screams of pain alerted the family.

Authorities in Pittsfield, Mass., said a man apparently attempting suicide set himself on fire, then for some unknown reason ran into a neighboring house, which caught on fire, forcing the family living there to evacuate. Homeowner Stephen Prendergast complained to the Berkshire Eagle the neighbor not only put him and his family in peril, but also partially damaged his silver 1978 Corvette while entering the Prendergasts’ house.

Slightest Provocations

William Gorzynski, 15, stabbed his 14-year-old brother to death in Broward County, Fla., police there told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, while the two argued about the speaker volume of a home computer.

Scott Allen Elder, 22, shot a stranger in Chatham County, Ga., police said, after one reached the other by misdialing a number, and the two subsequently exchanged a series of hostile phone calls and text messages. The Savannah Morning News reported the two agreed to meet at a drugstore parking lot, where the shooting occurred.

Loophole of a Lifetime

North Carolina announced the release of 20 violent criminals serving life sentences, after one of them successfully petitioned the courts to recognize that old laws defined a life sentence as 80 years and that a subsequent law cut those sentences in half. The change affected sentences handed down before 1981. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, in 2005, former death row inmate Bobby Bowden, now 60, appealed for his release, arguing that he had served his “life sentence” (less time off for good behavior). This October, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling, resulting in the release of Bowden and 19 others, most in their 50s and 60s.

Fetish Update

Police who stopped Jaime Aguirre, 42, in Brimfield, Ohio, for a traffic violation found he was driving with hundreds of X-rays, mammograms, videos and pictures of women and children. Calling it “one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen,” Police Chief David Blough told Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, “He had images of neck-to-knees X-rays and mammograms of women and girls under the age of 18, which we believe he was using for sexual gratification.” Aguirre works at a medical imaging center.

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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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