Stranger than fiction 

Curses, foiled again

After recognizing themselves in a surveillance video on TV, two women went to the police station in DeLand, Fla., and, according to sheriff's official Brandon Haught, "wanted to know what is going on." Investigators stepped in and determined from the video that the women were at a beauty store when it was robbed and one of them, Myesha Williams, 20, committed the robbery. (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

When a man and a woman tried to sell a ring to a jewelry store in Joplin, Mo., owner L.T. Newton recognized it as stolen and called the police. Officers couldn't find the ring on either suspect, but while questioning the man, he began to cough uncontrollably and eventually coughed up the ring, which he had swallowed. (The Joplin Globe)

Duck and cover

Earth remains at risk from potentially devastating asteroids because Congress won't fund its own project for the United States to defend the planet. The government spends about $4 million a year looking for big and obvious near-Earth objects, but in 2005 Congress ordered a broader survey to find near-Earth objects as small as 460 feet in diameter. These smaller objects "can cause huge damage on Earth," warned University of Maryland astronomer Mike A'Hearne, who helped chair the National Academy of Sciences report, Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies. It said more than 2 million space objects have a near-Earth orbit and that objects only 165 feet wide could cause destruction equal to that of a nuclear explosion.

The report warned that if the government won't pay for space probes to orbit Venus and track threats to Earth, it should at least give scientists a bigger telescope so they can detect 90 percent of the smaller asteroids by 2030. Meanwhile, since launching spacecraft to divert an asteroid's path needs planning, the report advised nations to rely on organized evacuations and other civil defense efforts to deal with small asteroids. (Reuters, The Money Times)

Extra crispy

A police officer who saw a man in flames in Portland, Ore., reached for a fire extinguisher in the trunk of her patrol car but instead accidentally grabbed a large can of pepper spray used in riot control. The pepper can sprays are red like a fire extinguisher, according to Police Bureau Chief Rosie Sizer, who said the victim, Daniel Shaull, 26, set himself on fire in an apparent suicide attempt. Sizer noted that although the spray didn't put out the fire, it isn't flammable and "didn't have any additional reaction with him already being on fire." Shaull died at a hospital. (The Oregonian)

Police investigating a one-car crash in Prince George's County, Md., located the driver, Kenneth R. Taylor, 28, nearby. After talking to him briefly, officers went to the crashed vehicle. Police Officer Henry Tippett said that Taylor jumped into one of the officers' cruisers and sped off. Officers didn't pursue the cruiser, which ran off the road about a mile away, crashed into a tree and burst into flames. Firefighters responding to the first crash arrived at the second one but were unable to put out the fire and pronounced Taylor dead at the scene. (The Washington Post)

Holy scanner

Grzegorz Sowa, a Catholic priest in the Polish town of Gryfow Slaski, installed an electronic reader to check fingerprints of schoolchildren so he could monitor their attendance at mass. Attending 200 masses in three years exempts them from having to pass an exam before they can be confirmed. "This is comfortable," one pupil, identified as Karolina, told the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. "We don't have to stand in line to get the priest's signature in our confirmation notebooks." (Reuters)

Downhill slide

British police officials reprimanded a group of officers after a passerby recorded them using their riot shields as makeshift sleds and posted the video on YouTube. Conceding that snow brings "out the child in all of us," Thames Valley Police Superintendent Andrew Murray said he told the officers "that tobogganing on duty, on police equipment and at taxpayers' expense is a very bad idea." (Associated Press)

Writer's justice

Fiji's attorney general urged the country to adopt a modern court recording system to replace having magistrates record proceedings by hand. "Currently, lawyers in court were sometimes asked to speak as fast as the magistrate could write," Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said. "As such, lawyers could get lost in what they were trying to say because they had to slow down." (Agence France-Presse)

Marketing magic

After the Iraqi government paid $84 million to a British company for 1,500 dowsing rods the company insisted could detect explosives, detectives questioned Jim McCormick, 53, a former police officer who runs the company, ATSC (UK) Ltd., about widespread claims that the company's products don't work. ATSC describes its ADE "Advanced Detection Equipment" as able to detect "all known drug and explosive based substances," using "non-vapour" methods. A simple plastic holder is fitted with a special piece of cardboard which has been prepared using "the proprietary process of electrostatic matching of the ionic charge and structure of the substance" to be detected. The device uses no electronics, being "charged" by the body of the user. Attached to the holder is a metal wand held at right angles to the user's body. The wand is said to drift in the direction of any explosive, drug or whatever else the cardboard insert has been "electronically matched" to — even contraband ivory or truffles — at ranges of up to half a mile.

"Whether it's magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs," Major General Jehad al-Jabiri of the Iraqi interior ministry told the New York Times last year after arranging a demonstration by one of his police officers. When a reporter couldn't get the dowsing rod to work, the general stated, "You need more training." (Britain's The Register)

Lucky day

The Missouri treasurer's office paid a Jefferson City man $1.6 million from its unclaimed assets fund. Treasurer Clint Zweifel said the unidentified man lost track of a stock fund, and the brokerage had lost track of him. After the treasurer's office held the stock for 18 months, it cashed it in in 2007, just before precipitous market declines, and added to its $600 million account on behalf of 3.5 million unaware people or households. The unclaimed assets office's 14-person staff eventually traced the man, who received his money in January. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


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