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News Quirks 

Published August 26, 2009 at 12:36 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again According to police in Jasper, Texas, gunman Alex Fowler, 26, confronted Dorothy Williams, 69, and Sue Erzen, 87, at their home and demanded money. When told they had none, he demanded their purses. The women refused, and Erzen attacked the robber with a can of RAID bug spray. The suspect fled on foot, police Lt. James Cook told the Beaumont Enterprise, but was quickly captured.

• Two men broke into a home in East St. Louis, Ill., and demanded money, but the 11 residents said they had none. The robbers were holding them at gunpoint when police responding to a report of a home invasion knocked at the door. The homeowner denied anything was amiss, Detective Michael Floore told the Bellevue News-Democrat, but the officers were suspicious and remained outside. Someone inside convinced the robbers to change their clothes and pretend to be family members, and then everyone would go outside together and tell police the robbers had left. As soon as they were out the door, the real family members fingered the outlaws to police, who arrested Terrance Dancy, 20, and Cortez Richardson, 28.

Slow to Complain After both drivers involved in a collision at an intersection in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture insisted they had a green light, police determined the two traffic signals had in fact turned green for about seven seconds at a time. Further investigation found the malfunction, caused by a programming error, had been occurring for the past 30 years. The Yomiri Shimbun reported that in all that time, no other accidents or mention of the signals had been reported.

The Final Frontier NASA can’t scan space for asteroids that might strike Earth because Congress, which assigned the early-warning search to the space agency, neglected to allocate money to build the needed telescopes. NASA reckons about 20,000 asteroids and comets in our solar system are big enough to pose a threat (between 460 feet and 3280 feet across), but its existing telescopes have spotted only about 6000. Lindley Johnson, NASA’s manager of the near-Earth objects program, told the Associated Press that to accomplish its mission of finding 90 percent of the potentially deadly space rocks will cost $800 million. Even with just $300 million, Johnson said, it could find most asteroids bigger than 1000 feet across. The only thing Congress has given NASA so far is a deadline: 2020.

NASA’s mission to return Americans to the moon, also by 2020, lacks enough money to meet that deadline. Instead, the agency’s $18 billion annual budget will only cover flights to and from the international space station and only aboard Russian rockets.

Gator Raid Sheriff’s deputies stopped Terron D. Ingram, 38, after they spotted him riding a bicycle in St. Charles Parish, La., carrying a 3-foot alligator on his shoulders. Ingram dropped the gator and fled but was captured. Capt. Pat Yoes told the Times-Picayune he didn’t know where Ingram got the gator or what he planned to do with it.

• The next day, a 10-foot alligator bit the leg off an 80-pound Dalmatian that was off leash illegally and drinking from a city park lake in Jacksonville, Fla. The Florida Times-Union reported signs warn people to keep their dogs leashed, not to feed alligators and not to swim in the lake, but the dog’s owner, Charles Rust, said he hadn’t seen an alligator in the 10 years he’s been coming to the park. If they do pose a danger, he said, park officials should have removed them.

• Three days later, in Harbordale, Fla., police broke up a tug-of-war between several middle school children and a 10-foot alligator. Observers said the children tied a raw chicken to a rope to attract an alligator swimming in a canal, but after the gator ate the chicken, its snout got caught on the rope, which the children wouldn’t relinquish. “They were pushing and pulling the gator back and forth on the rope,” postal carrier Kim Kryza told the St. Petersburg Times.

Crime Pays In the wake of the conviction of Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, New York Assemblyman James Tedisco introduced a bill that would charge wealthy criminals $90 a day for room and board at state prisons. Tedisco explained the measure is designed to ease the $1 billion annual cost of incarcerating prisoners, adding, “This concept says if you can afford it, or even some of it, you’re going to help the beleaguered taxpayers who play by the rules.”

Instant Karma Zach Schultz, 25, told Denver’s KMGH News that when he tried to flick his burning cigarette out his car window, the wind blew the cigarette back into his car, setting it on fire. Denver firefighters pronounced the older model station wagon a total loss.

• Motorcyclist Robert Kashdan, 57, pulled alongside a motor home going 55 mph in Ventura County, Calif., and made an obscene gesture, then, according to witnesses, pulled in front of the 30-foot-long vehicle and braked suddenly. California Highway Patrol Officer Terry Uhrich told the Camarillo Acorn the motor home slammed into the bike, dragging it and Kashdan about 75 feet before stopping. Investigators said the biker’s helmet, worn but not a federally approved model, was broken into several pieces.

Spelling Counts Two Swedish tourists headed for the southern Italian island of Capri missed their destination by 400 miles when they misspelled the name on their car’s GPS and wound up in the northern industrial town of Carpi. They learned of their blunder when they asked the local tourist office for directions to Capri’s famed Blue Grotto sea cave. “They were surprised but not angry,” Carpi regional government official Giovanni Medici told Reuters. “They got back in the car and started driving south.”

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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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