Stranger Than Fiction 

Curses, foiled again

John Wilkinson, 24, entered a drug store in Stanton, Texas, carrying what appeared to be a gun wrapped in a dark cloth, yelled at customers to get down and demanded Zanax and hydrocodine from the pharmacist. He made off with the drugs, according to police Chief Mike Adams, but when he reached his car, which he left idling in front of the drug store, he realized he had locked the keys inside. Wilkinson fled on foot, pursued by police, who shot him in the shoulder because they thought he was carrying a weapon. It turned out to be a caulking gun.

Religion in daily life

West Virginia began offering special driver's licenses to people who object to its new digitized photos because they believe such images could be the beginning of the biblical "mark of the beast" prophecy. The Division of Motor Vehicles agreed to keep hard copies of the opponents' license photos instead of digitizing them.

Rubel Shaikh waded into a pond at the Muslim Khan Jahan Ali shrine in Bangladesh, hoping to receive a blessing from the five crocodiles living there. Instead, one of them ate him. "Normally," police Inspector Humayun Kabir said, "the crocodiles are very friendly and do not harm people."

Incendiary devices

Two men in Anderson, S.C., were sitting in a car with all the windows rolled up huffing keyboard cleaner from aerosol cans when one of the men tried to light a cigarette. Police said the chemicals from the cleaner ignited, blowing out all the car windows and causing second-degree burns to the men's faces and necks.

A man in Auburn, Wash., was using an electric vacuum cleaner to siphon gas from a 5-gallon drum into his van when a spark ignited the gas. The Valley Regional Fire Authority reported the fire spread under the van and burned a garage and townhouse.

Fruits of research

Scientists have discovered a drug that can "chemically mimic" physical activity without effort. "We have exercise in a pill," researcher Ron Evans of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., announced, pointing out that sedentary mice who took the drug not only burned more calories and had less fat than untreated mice, but also could run on a treadmill about 44 percent farther and 23 percent longer. Anticipating that professional athletes might find the drug's performance-enhancement abilities irresistible, Evans said the researchers have already developed detection tests for use by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Scientists are close to developing a cloaking device that can render anything from people to large objects, such as tanks and ships, invisible to the eye. The theory behind the device is that bending visible light around an object will hide it, according to Xiang Zhang, leader of the researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, whose work is funded by the U.S. military. An observer sees the light from behind the cloaked object, making it seem to disappear.

Mensa reject

Silbestre Penaloza Menera, 32, escaped from Stanislaus County Inmate Honor Farm in Grayson, Calif., with only one day remaining on his five-day sentence for driving under the influence.

Litigation nation

A Texas car dealership settled a lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who killed himself after quitting a contest in which participants tried to keep their hand on a vehicle the longest. Just before a scheduled rest break 48 hours into the "Hands on a Hardbody" event, Richard Thomas Vega II dropped out, crossed a street, broke into a Kmart store, took a gun from a case and shot himself. His wife, Chalala Gutierrez, accused Longview's Patterson Nissan of negligence, insisting the dealership failed to provide a safe environment for contestants who "temporarily lost their sanity."

A New York City man who survived an electric shock and fire two years ago when he climbed atop an empty Amtrak train parked in Boston's South Station has sued the railroad for not doing enough to protect trespassers like him. After telling friends he "wanted to get back to New York" following a night of bar hopping, Brian Hopkins, 25, was discovered two hours later engulfed in flames atop the train, having been jolted by 27,500 volts from arcing overhead wires. The suit insists Amtrak "should have known that persons trespassed" in the area where Hopkins was found, cut off the electricity going to overhead wires and even parked out-of-service trains somewhere else.

Nebraska State Sen. Ernie Chambers told a judge that his lawsuit against God should be allowed to continue. Chambers filed the suit about a year ago to protest frivolous lawsuits by making the point that anybody can sue anybody. Douglas County District Court notified Chambers in August that it planned to dismiss the suit because he has failed to serve notice to God. Chambers responded by filing additional legal papers asserting that because God knows everything, he "must be deemed to have actual notice of the proceedings."

Optimist of the week

Police in New Castle, Pa., said a man hid $30,000 in cash inside a garbage can, but when he went to retrieve it, the money was gone. The man offered a $1,000 reward for the money's return.

Reality TV

Investigators who suspected Red Lobster executive Thomas Hickman, 55, was kidnapped and shot in the back of the head near Santa Rosa, N.M., ruled Hickman's death a suicide after finding a bundle of helium balloons with a gun attached snagged on bushes and cactus near Hickman's body. An investigator recalled a similar case on the television dead-body show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and concluded Hickman intended for the balloons to carry away the gun to make it look like he was murdered. "Investigators were able to show that he purchased the balloons and purchased the gun," New Mexico State Police Lt. Rick Anglada told the Dallas Morning News.

Weight loss

After two years of steady dieting reduced his weight from 1,235 pounds to 700 pounds, Manuel Uribe left his home in Monterrey, Mexico, for the first time in five months. A forklift hoisted his specially designed bed onto a platform truck, which hauled him to a lake, where he snacked on fish and vegetables. Uribe, who is unable to walk, had planned an outing in March but canceled when the platform carrying his bed got stuck under an overpass.


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