TAKING ITS TOLL 


At 10 p.m. on Oct. 19, Ralph Parker, 93, in his Chevrolet Malibu, eased up to a tollbooth on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg, Fla., inattentive to the fact that there was a dead body lodged in his windshield (the result of a collision about three miles away). According to police, Parker was off by about 10 miles when asked where he was and by two months on the date, and he thought the body had just fallen from the sky. Parker's son, 66, said he was aware his father had been deteriorating mentally, yet Parker's driver's license was renewed last year through his age 99, based on Florida's lax renewal policy (toughened for the state's 54,000 age-80-and-up drivers only by a vision test). (By contrast, for example, Florida requires 16 hours' training every two years for its licensed cosmetologists.)

TOENAILS IN THE HEADLINES

'Woman Charged $1,133 to Clip Toenail' was printed in a September Associated Press report on a class-action lawsuit against Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle for allegedly excessive fees, including a test-preparatory toenail clipping. 'Man Sues Over Leg Amputation After Ingrown Toenail' came from a September story on the WOAI-TV-radio website in San Antonio, Texas, reporting a farmer's lawsuit against Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Waco, Texas, claiming that he contracted the flesh-eating bacteria after ingrown-toenail surgery).

BABY SNUB

In September, to preserve 'respect and dignity' for newborns, the neonatal unit of Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax, England, officially banned visitors' 'cooing' at infants. Said hospital official Debbie Lawso, 'Cooing should be a thing of the past because these are little people with the same rights as you or me.' To illustrate the rule, officials displayed a doll holding a sign reading: 'What makes you think I want to be looked at?'

PIGEON FORGING

Animal control officers raided a house in Torrance, Calif., in October on reports that birds were being improperly kept there and ultimately found about 300, of which about 120 were dead. Gerard Enright, 61, was arrested when police caught him in the act of performing a tumorectomy on his No. 1 pigeon, Twister, that he had sedated with vodka. Enright is not a surgeon but said he had watched his veterinarian closely enough to know what he was doing.

REALLY BAD LIARS

Actor Robert Blake, testifying in October at the wrongful-death trial against him brought by the family of his ex-wife Bonnie Lee Bakley, said the reason why he had traces of gunshot residue on his hand after the murder was because he regularly plays with cap guns, according to a report in the New York Post. 'Without sounding like I'm pretty weird, I missed my childhood. (F)or me, (toy soldiers and) cap guns bring it all back. If (that) makes me nuts, then label me.'

Neelesh Phadnis, 24, acting as his own lawyer, earned himself a conviction in Seattle in October for killing his parents, in large part (according to Seattle Times) because of his defense that the crimes were committed by, first, a gang of 400-pound Samoans, later augmented during his testimony to include their girlfriends, two whites, two blacks, a Native American and a transsexual, and later still, to be described as more than 30 armed Samoans. Phadnis said he outran them all to escape, despite being seriously wounded. When he finally summoned the police, he told the officers that he was too tired and hungry to talk about his parents' bodies and that they should 'go home.'

IT'S A LIVING

Chicago lawyer Stephen Diamond has filed about 100 lawsuits since 2002 against companies for failing to charge him sales tax on items he bought, earning himself about $500,000 in settlements and judgments, according to an October Wall Street Journal report. Diamond has exploited a law in Illinois that allows citizens to receive part of the proceeds from certain law violations, including from companies that might be authorized to collect sales tax on Internet purchases but have chosen not to because the law is not completely settled. (Tennessee and Virginia, which have similar laws, have amended them to prevent lawsuits like Diamond's.)

Park Hyatt hotel maid Louise Kelsey, 58, testified in August in Melbourne, Australia, that she was kissed against her will in 2001 by a hotel guest (an Uruguayan soccer player in town for a World Cup match) and suffered a post-traumatic stress disorder that led to her being declared legally blind in 2002. Though a doctor for the defense derided it as 'the most powerful kiss in history,' the hotel's insurer agreed to its liability in October and said it would negotiate the money amount.

Lee Ka-wai filed a lawsuit in Hong Kong's Small Claims Tribunal in September against the Rolex Corp., claiming intense psychological trauma from a rash she developed on her wrist after wearing the company's $3,800 Oyster Perpetual watch. Lee blames the rash on the label on the back of the watch, which Rolex says everyone knows must be removed after purchase but which Lee left on out of fear that removal would void the warranty.

WAVING THE BLAME

Mr. Jirra Collings Ware was awarded approximately $7,300 from his employer by the Federal Magistrates Court in Sydney, Australia, in October after he was fired for being repeatedly drunk at work (even once urinating into a trash can). Ware says he has Attention Deficit Disorder and that his employer, OAMPS Insurance Brokers, should have done more to accommodate the illness. weirdnews@earthlink.net

More by Chuck Shepherd

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