Stranger than fiction 

Curses, foiled again

Los Angeles police broke up a sophisticated marijuana-growing operation they found 25 feet from the back door of the police station. Officers noticed the strong smell of pot coming from the building and notified the narcotics squad, which investigated. Officer Karen Raynor told KTTV News the three suspects had "gone to great lengths to filter the air coming out of every hole that might leak to the outside" and plugged all places where the smell might have been detected with liquid caulking. "But it was not enough," Raynor noted. "Their luck ran out."

Police responding to a bank robbery in St. Petersburg, Fla., said suspect Thomas John Castro, 54, was making his getaway on a city bus when a dye pack hidden with the stolen money exploded on him. Witnesses said he hastily hopped off the bus and fled on foot. The St. Petersburg Times reported that a tip led police to a motel room, where Castro answered the door holding a bag of crack cocaine.

Democracy follies

Edward Natapei, the prime minister of the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, lost his job and his seat in parliament when he left the country on official business but forgot to send a note explaining his absence to the speaker of the house. "It was a standing order," an official at the speaker's office told Britain's the Times. "If you miss three consecutive meetings, your seat will be declared vacant." As a result of his oversight, Natapei, a career politician and president of the socialist Anglophone Vanua'aku Pati party, became the island nation's shortest serving prime minister, leaving office after 14 months.

Holy prevention

Italian inventor Luciano Marabese, determined to keep religious tradition alive despite the swine flu epidemic, unveiled an electronic holy water dispenser. "After all the news that some churches, like Milan's cathedral, were suspending the use of holy water fonts as a measure against swine flu, demands for my invention shot to the stars," Marabese told Reuters. "I have received orders from all over the world." The terra cotta dispenser, introduced in the town of Fornaci di Briosco, works like an automatic soap dispenser in public restrooms; churchgoers wave their hands under a sensor, and the machine spurts out sanctified water.

Improbable causes

David Kelbaugh, 23, rammed his car into a hot dog stand in Cary, N.C., after the vendor refused his demand to sell him a hot dog and drink for $1.

Claudia De La Rosa notified Miami International Airport that a bomb was aboard an American Airlines flight to Honduras, according to investigators, so that her boss, who was running late, wouldn't miss his flight.

A fire that gutted the garage of a home in Damonte Ranch, Nev., destroying two vehicles and most of the roof and attic area, started, investigators told the Reno Gazette-Journal, while an occupant of the house was examining a flare gun to see if it was loaded. It was and discharged, igniting the fire.

Don't touch

A civilian passenger riding in the back seat of a South African air force jet accidentally ejected himself after grabbing the black-and-yellow striped handle between his legs. The rocket-powered seat smashed through the canopy and blasted 300 feet into the sky. The Guardian reported the passenger was recovered by helicopter unharmed and returned to Langebaanweg air force base. The aircraft, piloted by a member of South Africa's air force aerobatics squad, landed safely.

Who needs guns?

While spending Thanksgiving with their parents in Algoa, Texas, a 26-year-old man who was arguing with his 23-year-old sister smacked her in the face with a piece of hot pecan pie. Galveston County sheriff's Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo told the Houston Chronicle the sister required treatment for first- and second-degree burns to her face and neck.

Bruce Lee follies

A 41-year-old man tried to enter a Seattle sports bar, but a 25-year-old man accosted him, and the two men started fighting. At one point, the younger man tried to get away by jumping over a 5-foot fence, but, according to police official Renee Witt, "he didn't quite make it." Officers called to the scene found the younger man stuck on the fence with a metal spike jutting out from his buttock. He was bleeding profusely. The Seattle Times reported that the impaled man explained he assumed he could jump over the fence because he believed he was a ninja.

Pre-judgment day

The day before Gary Joseph Wessel, 55, was set to stand trial on child molestation and sodomy charges in Illinois, state police found his body with a shotgun wound to the chest lying on the side of the road next to a truck with a low tire. Police Lt. James Morrisey said Wessel shot himself while trying to change a tire when he dislodged the jack, and it snagged on the shotgun case, causing the gun inside to discharge through the case.

Pink-ish ribbon

Trista Joy Lathern, 24, told authorities in Waco, Texas, that she pretended to have breast cancer, collected $10,000 at a benefit held for her and then used the money for breast implants she hoped would save her failing, seven-month marriage. The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that after she was charged with theft by deception, her husband, William Lathern, who married her when he thought she had cancer, filed for an annulment, alleging that she induced him to marry her "by fraud."

Illegal aliens

Officials of an Arizona school district accused Brad Niesluchowski, the district's former information technology director, of using school computers to search for space aliens, bogging down the district's computer system and interfering with technology use in classrooms. Higley Unified School District Superintendent Denise Birdwell told the East Valley Tribune the problem would cost more than $1 million to fix.

Pay and pay phone

When Los Angeles hairdresser Barbara James, 49, accepted a collect call from a customer using a pay phone to say she was running late for her appointment, James was billed $45.09 for the three-minute call. Service provider Network Communications International Corp. charged her $37.40 for the brief, in-the-neighborhood collect call, $4.74 in regulatory fees and taxes, and an extra $2.95 just for what it called "billing cost recovery fee." NCIC's president Bill Pope told the Los Angeles Times the tiny number of collect calls nowadays makes such prices inevitable, especially since pay phones are largely unregulated.


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