Flushed with guilt 


Joseph Chopnowski, 40, was charged with criminal mischief in Berlin, Conn., last month after items blocking a sewer line -- including newspapers, batteries, clothing, plastic bags, soda cans and a wrench -- were traced back to his house. Neighbors told authorities that Chopnowski often spent many hours a day working at the sewer "clean-out" manhole in his front yard. Apparently, Chopnowski had for years been flushing household items down his toilet and then running huge amounts of water into the sewer to flood them along. Local plumbers were rather fond of Chopnowski, reporting frequent calls to unblock his line.

Dead air

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish authorities ruled in October that their priests could not ride on airliners taking off from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv without getting into hermetically sealed body bags for the few moments that their planes pass over the cemetery in nearby Holon. The reasoning is that impurities emanate from the cemetery and have to be blocked out. Spokespersons for El Al said that, for safety reasons, they wouldn't permit passengers to wrap themselves in body bags. But competitor Swissair announced it would make a slight route adjustment so that its planes could avoid the cemetery.

Using her head

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jane Baker, 56, has announced that she will run for a second term next year even though she recently told a jury that she is cognitively disabled. Baker, who lives near Allentown, said she "needs help with reading and understanding material and carrying on conversations" due to head injuries sustained in a traffic accident. She even told jurors that she is "virtually unemployable" except for her position in the legislature, for which she remains qualified. Last month, the jury awarded her $2.9 million in damages.

Drowning their sorrows

A husband and wife in their 70s were recovering in Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, England, after severely overdosing on pills. They told doctors that they had to take lots of drugs to calm themselves because their neighbors' kids kept behaving too rambunctiously. ... Also in England, the manager of the Chelmsford Crown Court nursing home was convicted of gross negligence for her obsession with making sure her clients were sufficiently hydrated. Problem was, she went too far, sometimes pouring massive amounts of water down their throats, to the point that two of them died.

Rash decision

A group of parents in Pittsburgh recently held several chicken-pox "parties" for their children, allowing one kid with the illness to mingle with other kids so as to infect them, too. According to the Associated Press, the idea was that the exposed kids -- after a week's worth of discomfort -- would acquire lifetime immunity. The parents apparently wanted their kids to avoid standard immunizations because of the side effects.

Low gear

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Antonio Contreras' appeal, ending his lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Contreras had claimed that he was fired as a forklift operator despite his federally protected disability, which he says is "sexual dysfunction." Contreras said he used to have sex five times a week but that a work-related injury has limited him to twice a month. That lack of sex, he charged, was the reason Suncast Corporation of Illinois no longer thinks he's a good worker.

It's all Greek to her

Katherine Norfolk, 19, and her parents filed a lawsuit in September for about $250,000 against Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex, England, claiming it did not instruct her well enough in Latin, causing her to score too low on exams to get accepted at Oxford, thus ruining her career and diluting the "earning power" that comes with a degree in Latin.

War bond

One of those guys who enlist in wartime and then don't keep up with the news has turned up in the Guatemalan jungle, just across the border from his native El Salvador. Salomon Vides went off to fight Honduras back in 1969 during a 100-day war with El Salvador. When reporters found him this fall, he was amazed to learn that the conflict had ended 32 years ago. Vides, now 72, says he was driven into hiding for so many years because he often heard gunfire, but rescuers noted that he was living in an area popular with hunters. Reporters noted that Vides looked authentically out of the loop, even having a tough time figuring out how to open a pop-top soda can.

Stunt men

A Galien, Mich., man inadvertently shot and killed his 23-year-old son on a hunting trip while the son hid behind a log, holding up a dead squirrel and making barking sounds. The father said he had warned his son many times to cut out the pranks. ... A 25-year-old Houston, Texas, man who had parked on railroad tracks to scare his girlfriend and then chased after her on foot was killed when he ran back to the car to move it (after hearing a horn). He was crushed by a passing train. ... A 19-year-old college student was killed when he slid down a library chute that he thought was for books but which was a garbage chute dumping straight into a compactor. ... Motorist Jerry Ross of Augusta, Ga., pleaded guilty to hit-and-run charges after he collided with a slow-moving train, then extricated his car despite its having been mangled, and drove off.


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