Stranger than fiction 

Curses, foiled again

Two men lacking masks when they broke into an apartment in Carroll, Iowa, used a Sharpie marker to draw on masks. The Daily Times Herald reported that police, responding to a caller who saw two men with "painted faces" drive off, stopped a car after noticing Matthew McNelly, 23, and Joey Miller, 20, sporting the irremovable disguises.

And again ...

A man whose truck got stuck on railroad tracks near the Baltimore airport abandoned the stalled vehicle and tried to steal four vehicles in succession. The Washington Post said police learned of the first theft attempt from a woman who said she heard a loud noise, which turned out to be the sound of the stalled truck being hit by an Amtrak passenger train. The woman then reported finding a man trying to steal her car. She shouted, and he fled. While police were looking for him, two other people reported the same man tried but failed to steal their cars. When police found suspect Gary E. Ensor, 43, not far from the site of the first theft attempt, a man approached and told them Ensor had tried unsuccessfully to steal his car, too.

Boom box brigade

Fearing plug-in hybrid and electric automobiles could endanger pedestrians and children, who can't hear them coming, safety experts asked automakers to supply digitally amplified engine sound to warn walkers. A 2008 University of California Riverside study, financed by the National Federation of the Blind, found that a gas-powered car going 5 mph could be heard 28 feet away, whereas a hybrid in silent battery mode could be detected only 7 feet away.

The upside, the New York Times reported, is that car owners will be able to customize the sound their vehicle emits, much like cell-phone ring tones. Several automakers are even working with Hollywood sound studios to customize engine noises. The most ambitious comes with the Fisker Karma, an $87,900 plug-in hybrid going on sale next year. Speakers in the bumpers will pump out a sound that company founder Henrik Fisker calls "a cross between a starship and a Formula One car."

Irony illustrated

A wind-power company rejected a site in western Maine for its wind turbines because it's too windy. The Sun-Journal of Lewiston reported that First Wind's Matthew Kearns told a public meeting in Rumford that the company's wind towers couldn't handle the strong gusts on Black Mountain.

Avoirdupois update

Japanese lawmakers established a national limit on waistlines for people 40 and older, according to the Atlantic magazine: 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women.

Peruvian police arrested four people accused of killing as many as 60 people and selling their fat to buyers who used it to make cosmetics. "We have people detained who have declared and stated how they murdered people with the aim to extract their fat in rudimentary labs and sell it," Police Commander Angel Toldeo announced. The Reuters dispatch said the gang stored the fat it collected in used soda and water bottles.

A craving to avoid

Women who eat lots of licorice while they're pregnant risk having children with lower intelligence and more behavioral problems, according to Scottish and Finnish researchers. The BBC News said the team found that an ingredient of licorice might impair the placenta, allowing high stress hormones from the mother to pass to the baby. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, said that as little as 3.5 ounces a week of pure licorice could affect fetal brain development and lead to behavioral disorders. An earlier study linked licorice consumption to shorter pregnancies.

Gun goofs

Chicago police arrested a 26-year-old man they say tried to shoot his sister during an argument but accidentally shot their 47-year-old mother in the leg instead. The Chicago Sun-Times reported the mother was hospitalized in good condition.

A New Jersey judge ruled that a quadriplegic has the right to bear arms. The judge added, however, that James Cap, 46, will have to use a wheelchair mount to use the firearm and have qualified people assist him. Cap told the Star-Ledger he intends operating the gun on the mount by using a breathing tube.

Cwazy wabbits

The company responsible for the environmental cleanup of Hanford, Wash., used $300,000 of federal stimulus money to fund a helicopter survey of nearly 16 square miles looking for radioactive rabbit poop. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that 50 million gallons of liquid waste, laced with radioactive cesium and strontium salts, were dumped in a 13.7-square-mile site and a 2-square-mile site during the Cold War. Even though the dumping ended more than 40 years year ago, jackrabbits routinely burrowed in those sites, found the salt, liked it, licked it and later pooped it, leaving slightly radioactive scat all over the ground. Dee Millikin of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., the company responsible for the cleanup, said the helicopter survey would shorten the cleanup from months to days.

Lost dollars

A Wisconsin state court awarded $1.26 billion to two state residents who charged PepsiCo Inc. with stealing their idea to bottle and sell purified water. Charles Joyce and James Voigt won the case by default when the soft drink company failed to appear in court. Even though the plaintiffs served the papers nearly four months before the trial, lawyers for the company explained after Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Erwin's default judgment that the paperwork got lost in its corporate bureaucracy and asked the judge to reconsider the decision.

No dope

Police arrested Anthony Carrazco, 19, for trying to sell marijuana door–to-door in Brownsville, Texas, after he knocked on the apartment door of an off-duty police officer. Noting that Carrazco appeared to be intoxicated and was carrying three ounces of pot, police official Jimmy Manrrique said the officer told Carrazco "he would be right back and went to get his badge and handcuffs."

Pre-partum follies

Police who said they caught Shanae Harston, 19, robbing a home in Vallejo, Calif., added that while she was being arrested, she went into labor. The Vallejo Times-Herald reported Harston was taken to a hospital, where she gave birth.


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