Stranger Than Fiction 

Curses, foiled again
While James Miller, 38, was being held as a burglary suspect in Dedham, Mass., he called his girlfriend and told her to sneak him a handcuff key while hugging or kissing in court. Authorities thwarted the plan by monitoring Miller's phone conversations as inmates are clearly warned will happen and then intercepting Theresa Fougere, 46, who turned over the key.

Poor planning started early for a 12-year-old girl suspected of robbing a Girl Scout who was selling cookies in Savannah, Ga. According to Police Sgt. Mike Wilson, the 10-year-old Girl Scout reported that the suspect first placed an order, then snatched $28 from the victim and fled. Police went to the address on the order form and arrested the suspect.

A firefighter driving a truck to a training class in Washington, D.C., heard a call about a house fire and notified his supervisor that he was just a few blocks away and could help. The supervisor told Lt. Gerald Burton to ignore the fire and continue on to the training class. Instead, Burton responded to neighbors' pleas and told his supervisor that he and another firefighter who was with him were going to help. They were first on the scene and put out the blaze. No one was injured. Burton was suspended without pay for disobeying his supervisor.

A landmark restaurant in Rouses Point, N.Y., burned to the ground after the nearest firefighters were delayed 15 minutes because they didn't have official identification. U.S. Customs officials halted three trucks from Lacolle, Quebec, just eight miles away, that arrived at the border with lights flashing and sirens sounding. "When you're answering a call at midnight, all you think about is putting on your pants," Lacolle Fire Chief Jean-Pierre Hebert told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "You don't think about taking your wallet."

When guns are outlawed
After a drug deal went bad in Edwardsville, Ill., Madison County prosecutors said Southern Illinois University students Rosario James and Jordan Sallis kidnapped a young man and burned him with freshly baked cookies.

Hot flashes
Fires during surgery in the United States might number in the hundreds each year rather than the 50 to 100 range that patient safety groups previously estimated, according to the latest statistics. "The numbers are higher than we expected," Mark Bruley of the ECRI Institute, a health-care research organization that helps Pennsylvania compile patient-safety statistics, told the Boston Globe. ECRI noted that 44 percent of operating room fires occur during head, face, neck and chest surgery, when electrical surgical tools are closest to the oxygen that patients are breathing.

A surgeon who rubbed an alcohol-based cleaning solution on a patient's abdomen decided to remove a mole from her stomach with a hot cauterizing instrument. "Blue flames immediately shot up from her midsection," Dr. Hubert Johnson told Massachusetts public health investigators, "similar to a flamb." Antoinette DiPhillipo, 35, suffered first- and second-degree burns.

A 40-year-old Swedish woman undergoing hemorrhoid surgery was also having a lump removed by electrosurgery. The newspaper Aftonbladet reported that after a nurse at Stockholm's Ersta Hospital cleaned the patient's backside with an antiseptic solution, the patient caught fire when the electrical current was turned on to begin operating.

The finer points of sustainability
The Fur Council of Canada launched print ads promoting fur as good for the environment. "When you buy fur, you are helping support people on the land, people who have a direct personal interest in protecting nature," states one of the ads by the Montreal-based council, which represents tens of thousands of trappers. Another ad criticizes faux fur for containing non-renewable petrochemicals and points out that "fur, by contrast, is a natural, renewable and sustainable resource."

Bagpipes are bad for the environment, according to the conservation group Fauna & Flora International (FFI). FFI announced that Scotland's national instrument is helping wipe out African Blackwood, which has been used to make Highland pipes since Scottish mariners began bringing it back from Africa in the 18th century. It replaced the native bog oak because it made a sweeter sound. Urging action to save the species, the FFI asked musicians and bagpipe-makers to switch to wood from managed Blackwood forests and to pay as much as $85 to plant "bagpipe trees" to atone for the environmental damage bagpipes have already caused. "The response so far, particularly from Scotland, has been incredible," said Kirsty Thomson of the charity Good Gifts, which organized the pay-to-plant campaign.

Researchers at the University of Alberta concluded that Canadians could save energy by getting rid of older refrigerators used to store beverages. Researcher Denise Young found that 30 percent of Canada's 11.5 million households have so-called beer fridges, and that 20 percent of those are energy-inefficient older models.

Divorce is bad for the environment because it squanders resources, amounting to as much as $6.9 billion in extra utility costs per year to power separate households in the United States alone, according to a study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. "Not only [the] United States, but also other countries, including developing countries such as China and places with strict religious policies regarding divorce, are having more divorced households," said co-author Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University. "The consequent increases in consumption of water and energy and using more space are being seen everywhere."

Hindus in the news
When a statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh arrived at a Chicago household broken, a religious leader told Dignesh and Anu Solanki to wrap the figure in a red cloth and place it in a lake or river to prevent bad luck. When authorities found Anu's car near the Des Plaines River, they presumed she had attempted to carry out the instructions but had fallen into the river and drowned. Divers began searching for her body. Four days later, Anu Solanki turned up in Los Angeles, where she said she had fled with another man because she wanted to leave her husband. "She indicated that she was not a victim of abuse in their relationship," Cook County sheriff's official Bill Cunningham said. "She just stated she regretted getting married and wanted out of the marriage."

After art lovers protested shipping two terra-cotta statues of the Hindu deity Vishnu from Bangladesh to France because they feared the statues might be stolen, the statues were stolen. Ayub Quadri, the government's cultural affairs adviser, said thieves took the 1,500-year-old statues from a high-security cargo area at Dhaka's international airport.


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