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Stranger Than Fiction

Curses, foiled again

After agreeing to give a stranger a ride to a convenience store in Spotsylvania County, Va., a 29-year-old man bought some items at the store and returned to his pickup truck. The stranger assaulted and robbed him, then hopped into a waiting car, which drove off. The victim called 911 and followed in his truck but lost sight of the getaway car. Sheriff's Deputy Chad Polliard kept searching and found the vehicle 10 miles from the robbery scene with its blinkers flashing after it ran out of gas. He arrested suspects Johnny Ray Brooks, 28, and Jon Dean Kimmel, 37, who were standing beside the vehicle. (Fredericksburg's The Free Lance-Star)

Police investigating a drive-by shooting that wounded 13 people in the District of Columbia identified Craig Steven Wilson, 19, after surveillance videos showed shots fired from a vehicle registered to him at the scene. Wilson was also wearing a court-ordered electronic ankle bracelet with a GPS tracking device, which indicated his movements coincided with those of one of the shooters. (The Washington Post)

Future in the past

Outbox, a new startup, charges people $4.99 a month to digitize their mail. A driver, known as an "unpostman," stops at subscribers' homes three times a week to collect letters, bills, magazines and advertisements delivered by official letter carriers, and then takes them to a warehouse. There, they're opened and photographed to create digital files, which are sent electronically to recipients. Outbox co-founder said the company already has more than 600 customers in Austin, Texas, and just began service in San Francisco. (CNN)

Polaroid Fotobar opened its first store in Delray Beach, Fla., where it offers customers the opportunity to turn pictures on cell phones and other digital devices into prints that replicate traditional Polaroid instant photos. Prices begin at $1. "Digital is not permanent," Warren Struhl, Fotobar's founder and CEO, said. "Physical is permanent." (Associated Press)

Gun goofs

After an explosion at an ammunition factory in Bend, Ore., the sprinkler system ran for 90 minutes, contaminating the water and requiring a year's clean-up effort. Much contamination was in underground shooting areas, where Nosler Inc. tests bullets. "It was mainly lead-related, as you might imagine from a bullet manufacturer," said Cliff Walkey of the Department of Environmental Quality. (Bend's The Bulletin)

Tracer rounds fired at a Dallas shooting range apparently triggered a four-alarm fire that engulfed the one-story building. About 50 people inside the range when the fire broke out managed to escape safely, according to Dallas Fire-Rescue official Jason Evans, who said a shooter at the range admitted firing unauthorized tracer ammunition, producing a small flare that makes following a round's path easier but can ignite the target backing. After the blaze was doused, security personnel were dispatched to the wreckage to prevent looters from taking at least 100 handguns, assault rifles and ammunition amid the debris. (Houston's KHOU-TV)

Drone on

The University of North Dakota became the first to offer a degree program in unmanned aviation, although it's just one of many academic settings, along with companies and individuals, preparing for the day when cheap, remote-controlled aircraft will occupy civilian air space. "The sky's going to be dark with these things," predicted Chris Anderson, who runs 3D Robotics, which sells unmanned aerial vehicles. (The New York Times)

The Defense Department is creating a medal for drone pilots and cyber-warfare specialists that recognizes "extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but do not involve acts of valor or physical risks that combat entails." The new Distinguished Warfare Medal ranks just above the Bronze Star with Valor device, which is awarded for specific heroic acts that are performed under fire in combat. (Marine Corps Times)

Celebrity news and gossip media outlet TMZ has applied for a permit to use drones to follow the activities of its targets, according to reports, which TMZ and the Federal Aviation Administration have denied. By 2015, TMZ and virtually anyone else will be able to use drones for private and commercial purposes, such as taking photos, shooting videos, conducting research, providing security surveillance and advertising. (The Washington Times)

Numerous media outlets, citing U.S. Customs and Border Protection documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, reported that the federal government possesses unmanned aerial vehicles capable of detecting guns and tracking citizens via their cell-phone signals. The agency explained it merely wants its 10 border-patrolling drones to be equipped with cameras capable of zooming in close enough to see whether people crossing the border from Mexico are holding a gun in their hands, but Amie Stepanovich, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, pointed out that the technology "is only going to get cheaper and easier to implement," and will soon expand to other government departments and agencies. (The Washington Times)

Although at least 19 states are considering limits on how the unmanned craft — some now as small as a housefly — can be used, about 30 states, including some of the 19, are urging the FAA to choose them for its six proposed drone test sites. A study by the Government Accountability Office cited a survey by the drone industry that puts the combined public- and private-sector spending on drones over the next decade at $89 billion, including spin-off spending for research and development. "We would encourage officials in all states, and especially those seeking test sites, to work collaboratively to ensure that state legislation doesn't undermine the job-creation potential of unmanned aircraft or a particular state's ability to compete for a test site," said Melanie Hinton of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. (The Washington Times)

Moving lips

After police charged Robert Smith, 32, with disorderly conduct for his loud whistling in downtown Portland, Maine, Smith pleaded guilty but reached an agreement with the city that lets him continue to whistle so long as he doesn't remain in one spot. Businesses complained that Smith drives away their customers, but he insists that his whistling, which is audible a block away, is protected free speech. (The Portland Press Herald)

Easy to find, hard to stop

Of the 1,351 criminal defendants ordered to wear GPS ankle bracelets after being released on bail in Washington, D.C., officials said 110 were arrested and charged with new crimes, 11 of them involving violence, while they were being tracked. (The Washington Post)

  • All the weird news that's fit to print.

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