Blame Florida 


Tampa, Fla., driver Terry Lee Crouch, 29, accidentally ran over his 6-year-old son in November while, he told police, playing a game in which the boy tries to cling to the rear bumper while Crouch starts and stops the car attempting to dislodge him. And in October, in nearby New Port Richey, Fla., a 400-pound man fell to his waist through the floor of his home at the Orangewood Lakes Mobile Home Community and said he had been trapped there for two days; a neighbor had called on him during his ordeal, but the man declined help. In January, according to police, a 41-year-old Largo, Fla., woman offered to pay three teenagers $20 to come beat up her son -- but told them to be careful with the furniture.

That voodoo that you do

Practitioners of the Santeria religion are such a presence in Miami area courtrooms, where they spread white dust on the furnishings to bring good luck to their friends and relatives, that attorneys have begun to complain about their higher dry-cleaning bills. Also found from time to time in those courthouses: remnants of Santeria-sacrificed chickens and goats, and mysterious candle formations. In a recent case, Haitian defendant Emmanuel Etienne claimed that his deceased victim had the power to turn himself into a headless donkey by "expelling three flatulents."

Mandatory retirement

In January, Hunter "Red" Rountree of Lubbock, Texas, who pleaded guilty to having robbed a First American Bank branch in August at the age of 91, was sentenced to 12 years in prison; it was his third bank robbery in five years. In November, Daniel Putzel, 87, was arrested and charged with running a house of prostitution in Guilford, Conn. And an October Boston Heralds column hailing the Boston South End neighborhood's alleged top cocaine dealer, Philip "Sonny" Baiona, said the fact that Baiona is 80 is a sign that the city's crime rate is tapering off.

Not just desserts

Brenda and Ronald Sager of Mount Pleasant Township, Pa., filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart in January for their pain and suffering after a plastic grocery bag broke open and its contents fell on their toes. The Sagers said the allegedly overstuffed bag contained a 32-ounce jar of Miracle Whip, a 46-ounce bottle of ketchup, three 15-ounce cans of fruit, an 18-ounce bottle of ranch dressing and a 12-ounce jar of mustard.

Pork-barrel blues

While the Statue of Liberty remains shuttered for lack of $5 million in post-Sept. 11 upgrades, Congress in January mandated $10.7 billion in "earmarked" projects, including: $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa, $50 million to make sure a Florida beach resort bridge remains toll-free, $450,000 to decipher the gene structure of rainbow trout, $225,000 to repair a public swimming pool whose drain U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada clogged with tadpoles when he was a kid, $200,000 to introduce golf to youngsters, $90,000 for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and, ironically, $500,000 for a University of Akron program that analyzes how Congress makes difficult budget decisions.

Jack my lantern

In December, a federal judge rejected the latest appeal of David Cobb, 66, a former teacher at the prestigious Phillips Academy in New Hampshire, who made News of the Weird in 1995 with his attempts to seduce children by dressing as "Pumpkin Man" and encouraging kids to fondle him. He had challenged the child-pornography counts against him, claiming that some of the nude photos he had were not of children, but of adults onto whose bodies he had meticulously glued head shots of kids cut out from magazine and catalog ads.

Reconstructive criticism

Going beyond bar associations' supervision of lawyers' competence, clients Denzil Dean (in Clayton, Mo.) and Robert Butler (Toronto, Ontario) exacted their own remedies for what they believed to be their attorneys' substandard performance. Dean, complaining in court in January that he did not want Richard Hereford to represent him, punched Hereford in the mouth, and Butler, complaining in court in December about delays in his case, punched out attorney Iryna Revutsky.

It must be a sign

Pilgrims flocked to the following places in December: 1) Brancaleone, Italy, to see a life-sized bronze statue of the recently sainted Padre Pio supposedly weeping blood; 2) Bridgeport, Conn., to see a stain-like image on the ceiling of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church resembling the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus; 3) Bethlehem, to see a baby born with a birthmark across his cheek resembling the Arabic letters of the name of his uncle, a Hamas militant killed by Israeli soldiers.

I have a dream ...

A Long Beach, Calif., cleaning crew forgot to lock up at a Bank of the West branch, and a customer had the whole place to himself when he came by on the Martin Luther King holiday, but he notified the police.

Watching the detectives

And in December, Tony Lee Hinrichs, 40, was arrested in Mesa, Ariz., based on video of him in the act of burglarizing the Extreme Surveillance shop; Hinrichs appeared to be unaware that the company is a security firm that might be expected to have cameras set up.


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