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News Quirks 01.26.05 

Published January 26, 2005 at 5:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again Authorities in White Plains, New York, charged Brian Calen, 48, with insurance fraud for collecting more than $1 million by claiming to have been blinded in the same eye four times. "How does a guy get blinded again and again?" Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro said, explaining that Calen bought travelers' insurance policies that required no medical exam but was found out after the fourth time when an alert insurance investigator discovered the prior claims.

Faith-Based Initiative After neighbors in Pepperell, Massachusetts, complained when Noel Dube, 85, erected an illuminated, three-story shrine in his back yard, insisting that the Virgin Mary told him to, town officials ordered him to remove it. Instead, Dube added a 30-foot painting of Jesus and a 24-foot illuminated cross to the existing 20-foot mural of Our Lady of Fatima. Middlesex Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fishman ruled that the shrine could stay because the structures are clearly used for religious purposes.

Two-Bit Crook Houston police investigating reports of a few stolen newspaper boxes went to the home of Ronnie Luhn, 37, after they identified him from a videotape taken by the wife of a delivery driver who had confronted him. They found 181 of the coin-operated machines, valued at $150,000, crammed into the one-bedroom residence. "They were in the bathroom, kitchen, entire living room, bedroom and garage," investigator Gary Storemski told the Houston Chronicle. "In many cases, Luhn had broken the locks of boxes, then replaced them with his own locks, which he would use to collect change weekly." Authorities needed two large moving trucks and seven pickup loads to haul the stolen property from the home, where Luhn lives with his wife and three children. "It's like they were living in a closet," Storemski said. "That's how much space they had."

La Justicia Police in Oakland, California, suspended their crackdown on drunk drivers after the city's Hispanic leaders, including City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, complained because the checkpoints were snaring illegal aliens, who are not licensed to drive, even sober. Despite De La Fuente's protest that otherwise law-abiding illegals were being unduly harassed, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown ordered an end to the traffic-stop moratorium, declaring that it "was a dumb idea."

Supporting the Troops After Army combat veteran Spc. Marquise Roberts, 23, told Philadelphia police that he had been shot while walking past two men who were arguing, detectives noted inconsistencies in his story. They found that Roberts' unit had been ordered to Iraq, so he had asked his wife's cousin to shoot him in the leg. "The investigation determined that he didn't want to go back to Iraq," police Inspector William Colarulo said, "and staged the shooting to avoid having to return."

Mission Unaccomplished President Bush justified attacking Iraq two years ago by insisting that Saddam Hussein's government was hiding weapons of mass destruction and harboring terrorists. Shortly before Christmas, the CIA's Iraq Survey Group officially abandoned its search for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, having found none, and returned home. Weeks later, the CIA reported that chaos in the wake of the U.S. invasion has turned Iraq into a haven for Islamic terrorists, who are using the country to recruit and train new members. Robert L. Hutchings, chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council, called Iraq "a magnet for international terrorist activity."

Way to Go Jerry Colaitis, 47, died after a Japanese hibachi chef playfully flung a grilled shrimp at him while preparing a tableside meal in Munsey Park, New York. Andre Ferenzo, the lawyer for the man's widow, charged that the chef's antics caused Colaitis to duck away from the flying food, resulting in a neck injury that required surgery, complications from which led to Colaitis's death nearly a year after the incident. The restaurant insisted that Colaitis was not trying to avoid the shrimp but was hurt trying to catch one in his mouth.

- Alexander Joseph Swandic, 20, died of a gunshot wound to the heart after he put on a protective vest and dared a friend to shoot him. Police in Orofino, Idaho, said that the vest was designed to protect against grenade fragments, not bullets.

- Ron Huber, 59, who had a lifelong fondness for auto racing and won several NASCAR races, died at a race in Las Vegas while entering the pit area. Huber, who routinely reached speeds up to 150 mph, suffered a fatal head injury when he fell off a two-wheeled Segway Human Transporter going 5 mph.

Way to Really Go Some 150 scholars, designers and environmentalists from 19 countries gathered in Beijing in November for the World Toilet Summit to exchange ideas on the latest toilet technologies, lavatory management and the relationship between toilets and tourism development. Jack Sim, founder of the Singapore-based World Toilet Organiza-tion, which sponsored the summit, declared, "Toilets are a basic human right."

- Helen O'Grady asserted her right by complaining that she had trouble getting off a toilet for the disabled at one of Canada's busiest airports because it wasn't tall enough. The Ottawa International Airport Authority responded by spending six months measuring the height of toilets in its new terminal and consulting with experts about proper toilet height. It concluded that six of the 64 toilets for the disabled didn't measure up to Canadian Standards Association requirements of between 400 and 460 millimeters. One was nearly 50 mm too low, and the other five were 7 mm (about a quarter-inch) off. After the airport replaced the six toilets, O'Grady, who suffers from arthritis, said that she appreciated the airport's efforts but urged that the standard be raised to 533 mm.

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About The Author

Roland Sweet

Roland Sweet was the author of a syndicated column called "News Quirks," which appeared weekly in Seven Days.


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