Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

THE MAG: News of the Weird

December 6, 2001

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Pennsylvania state Rep. Jane Baker, 56, said she will run for a second term next year even though she told a jury recently that injuries from a traffic accident had left her largely cognitively disabled. Baker, who lives near Allentown, said she "needs help with reading and understanding material and carrying on conversations" due to head injuries and told the jury that in fact she is "virtually unemployable" except for her position in the Legislature. (The jury awarded her $2.9 million in November.)

Joseph Chopnowski, 40, was charged with criminal mischief in Berlin, Conn., in November after items that blocked a sewer line (newspapers, batteries, clothes, plastic bags, soda cans, a wrench) were traced back to his house, and after neighbors reported that he often spent many hours a day working at the sewer "clean-out" in his front yard. Apparently, Chopnowski had for years been flushing things down his toilet and then running huge amounts of water into the sewer to flood them along (but several times before had been forced to call a contractor to unblock his line).

Hard times for British seniors in October

A couple in their 70s were recovering in Wythenshawe Hospital (Manchester) after severely overdosing on pills because, they said, their neighbors' kids had long been behaving too rambunctiously. And a judge at Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court told John Bushnell, 75, that he had best relocate after finding that, for 40 years, he has been guilty of tacky, petty harassment of his neighbors, out of inexplicable hatred. ("Dying-looking git," "creepy-looking Jesus," "first-class s-house" and "humpty-backed bastard" are a few of his epithets.) And the manager of a senior-citizens home was convicted of gross negligence at Chelmsford Crown Court for her longstanding obsession with making sure her clients were sufficiently hydrated (except that she went too far, sometimes pouring massive amounts of water down their throats, to the point where two of them died).

Family values

Naturists Robert and Christine Morton finally achieved closure in October in their longstanding quest to be able to bring their three kids to the clothing-optional Hippie Hollow park, near Austin, Tex., when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected their appeal challenging the park's anti-nudity rule for children. The state and county agencies that run the park, which is open to everyone (including, presumably, well-behaved voyeurs and pedophiles), had ruled that nude children were especially vulnerable, but the Mortons, oblivious of the danger, had insisted on frolicking nude as a family.

An October Associated Press dispatch from Pittsburgh reported that some local parents had recently held chicken pox "parties" for their kids, in which one kid with a current outbreak would be mingled with other kids so as to infect them, too, so that (after a week's discomfort) they would acquire lifetime immunity. These parents apparently want their kids to avoid standard immunizations because of the side-effects.

In August in Bartlesville, Okla., Douglas Dean Bryant Sr., 39, and Douglas Dean Bryant Jr., 19, were charged with rape in separate incidents; Dad's alleged victim was a year younger, at age 14, than the son's. And in August in Tylertown, Miss., David Earl King, 66, and his son, Nathan Paul King, were convicted of sexually molesting the same 14-year-old boy and received prison sentences of 36 years and 18 years, respectively.

Unclear on the concept

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Antonio Contreras' appeal, thus ending his lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in which he claimed that he was fired as a forklift operator despite his federally protected disability, which he says is "sexual dysfunction." Contreras said he used to have sex five times a week but that injury has limited him to twice a month and that that is the reason Suncast Corporation of Illinois no longer thinks he's a good worker.

Katherine Norfolk, 19, and her parents filed a lawsuit in September for about $250,000 against Hurstpierpoint College (West Sussex, England), claiming it did not instruct her well enough in Latin, causing her to score too low on exams to get accepted at Oxford, thus ruining her career and diluting the "earning power" that comes with a degree in Latin.

People different from us

Jeffrey J. Harris, 39, was arrested at halftime of the Florida high school football game between St. Petersburg and Clearwater in October when he created a loud scene by blocking his two kids (starters for Clearwater) from entering their locker room (which is in a public place with many students and parents mingling around outside). Harris was mad about something that happened in the first half and ordered the kids to immediately strip off their uniforms in a public display and to come home with him. The kids tried to rejoin their team, and when Harris intervened and struck a martial-arts stance, police arrested him.

Recurring themes

Another of those guys who enlist in wartime and then don't much keep up with the news turned up in September in the Guatemalan jungle, just across the border from his native El Salvador, surprised to learn that the 1969 war (El Salvador invading Honduras) ended 32 years ago, about 100 days after it started. Salomon Vides, 72, was further driven into hiding because he often heard gunfire over the years, but rescuers noted that he was living in an area popular with hunters. Reporters noted that Vides looked authentically out of the loop, for example, having a tough time with the concept of a pop-top soda can.

Thinning the herd

A man inadvertently shot and killed his 23-year-old son on a hunting trip while the son hid behind a log, holding up a dead squirrel and making barking sounds (even after the son had been warned by the family many times to cut out the pranks) (Galien, Mich., September). And a 25-year-old man who had parked on railroad tracks to scare his girlfriend and then chased after her on foot was killed when he ran back to the car to move it (after hearing a horn) and was crushed by a passing train (Houston, July). And a 19-year-old college student was killed when he slid down a library chute that he thought was for books but which was a garbage chute dumping straight into a compactor (Sewanee, Tenn., October).

Also, in the last month

Motorist Jerry Ross pleaded guilty to hit-and-run charges after he collided with a slow-moving train, then extricated his car despite its having been mangled, and then drove off (Augusta, Ga.). Greg Bonnett filed a lawsuit against a strip club after a dancer took too wide a swing from a pole and smacked him in the face with her leg, breaking his nose (Port Moody, British Columbia). A 58-year-old man died of kidney problems resulting from his 1966 gunshot wound from University of Texas Tower killer Charles Whitman, thus bringing Whitman's death toll that day to 15. Bruce Menia was served an eviction notice by his apartment-house landlord because of numerous complaints about how loud and "disturbing" his snoring is (Albany, N.Y.).

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