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April 2002

2 April 2002

The Windsor Star reports on convicted murderer David Wild, who is suing the Canadian government for $3.1 million. His charge is that prison guards performed 'inhumane' head counts, which, over five years, woke him 312 times between 3:30 and 5:30am. Federal Court Justice James Hugessen has ruled that the case has enough merit to go ahead, despite the federal government's contention that it is frivolous. Wild, 65, said the loss of so much REM sleep that he suffers permanent headaches, blurred vision, irratibility, and depression. His claim includes punitive damages and compensation for potential loss of earnings.

In an AP report from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, we hear of Deputy Keith Dalton's attempt to catch a speeding driver. The chase led into the woods, where one of the patrol car's wheels got stuck in a bog. The driver who turned around and stopped to help was none other than the man Dalton had been chasing. The man apologised and explained that he didn't stop because he didn't want to get in trouble for driving with a suspended licence. Dalton arrested him.

Hired by the National Centre for Biking and Walking, road safety expert Susie Stephens, 36, attended a St. Louis, Missouri, conference aimed at advising the US Department of Transportation on how to decrease the number of road deaths in the US. Until she started to run across the street to make photocopies and was hit by a tour bus. She died instantly. Adam Spey, director of the Thunderhead Alliance safety group, said: 'It's gut-wrenching to think that someone who spent so much of her life to keep that from happening is now one of the statistics.'

Minneapolis's Twin Cities Tribune reports on Gordon T. Testa, an Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, man who allegedly failed to report his gambling winnings while receiving food stamps. Testa, 65, who won nearly $800,000 between January 2000 and December 2001, called his actions 'dumb' and said that he is willing to pay back the $2,541 in welfare benefits he received in those two years, during which time his monthly income only once dipped below $3,000.
Dakota County Sheriff Don Gudmundson suggested: 'If he wants free food, I'm hoping that some judge will give him six months of free food in the Dakota County jail.'

The Miami Herald describes the death of the captain of the Liv, a freighter bearing the Panamanian flag. When Coast Guard agents found 31 bales of cocaine aboard the vessel, near Aruba, the captain - who remains unidentified - leapt overboard. Sailors from the Van Tresoling pulled him out of the water within five minutes, but he had drowned. Lieutenant Ron LaBrec, public affairs officer for the Coast Guard in Miami, said: 'At this point, we do not know why the man jumped overboard.'

A car chase in Westboro, Massachusetts, ended when a stolen car ran out of petrol. Police surrounded the car, driven by Ronald D. Raymond, 45, but were told to 'hold on a minute - let me finish my beer' - which they did. Several empty beer cans were found in the car, adding to the charges Raymond faces, which include car theft and driving with a suspended licence.

The New York Daily News reports that gun-control advocate Sarah Brady may have broken state regulations when she bought her son, James, Jr, a Remington .30-06 at a Lewes, Delaware, gun shop. While the federal Brady Law - yes, the same Brady - does not require background checks for intrafamily gun gifts, the state does not have such an exception. Delaware Justice Department spokeswoman Lori Sitler said: 'You can't purchase a gun for someone else. That would be a "straw purchase". You've got a problem right there.'

The Dispatch and Argus reports that a Geneseo, Illinois, woman was held captive for 20 minutes by its vending machine outside the town's Wal-Mart. The strings from the woman's jacket hood became trapped when the machine's spring-loaded door closed and locked. Due to shoulder surgery, she couldn't remove the coat. Store personnel told a concerned passer-by that tampering with vending machines is against policy. Wal-Mart's corporate office agreed, but later PR officer Sharon Weber said that 'this is not how we do business'.
The woman, 73, said: 'I just wanted someone to come and put some quarters in the thing and that's when she told me that they weren't responsible for making refunds [...]. When the woman from the store came back out to tell me that she hadn't been able to get anyone from the Dispatch on the phone yet, I told her that if she would just put some money in the machine I would pay her back as soon as I could get some change.' Her daughter later gave the store employee in question a $5 bill so the next 10 people in similar predicaments can be released more quickly.

New Jersey's Express-Times reports on Geremino T. Ranallo, 65, and Warren G. Jacoby, 50, who released a 'fart spray' inside a Warren County supermarket last year. They have now been convicted of disorderly conduct. A former clerk at the ShopRite supermarket testified that the pair were around whenever the shop started to smell of sulfur. Others saw Ranallo and Jacoby laughing at the chaos. Ranallo's lawyer argued that Ranallo didn't possess the 'fart gas' cylinder that police found in his pocket. A friend of the pair, who was with them when they were caught, said they'd brought fart gas merely to sell to shoppers.
Ranallo, who produced several fart-related gag items, said in court: 'I don't want to be known as the fart guy.'

According to AP reports, an American Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon, to St. Louis, Missouri, was diverted after a 'suspicious note' was found on board. FBI spokesman Kevin Eaton said the note appeared to be in a child's handwriting, and 'bomb' was misspelt as 'boom'. The note was 'found' in an arm rest by a child, whose family alerted the flight crew. The FBI said officials may try to find the passengers who were in those seats on earlier flights. The flight was on the ground for 2.5 hours while the plane's contents were being checked.

The AFP report that Nirmal Chandrea Seal, a Calcutta police officer, was suspended for duty after allegedly biting a minivan driver on Sunday. The driver refused to hand over a 750-rupee 'fine'. 'We got a complaint that Seal had sunk his teeth into the driver's hand and have started an inquiry to verify if he was trying to extort money', said deputy Calcutta police commissioner Harman Preet Singh, Local shop-owner Mohammad Habib said several people saw Seal bite the driver's hand after he refused to supply the cash. Habib said Seal and another officer then beat up the driver.

A 51-year-old Chicago man was beaten and stabbed to death by his room-mate after a fight over supper portions. Prosecutors allege that David Norington, 38, accused Ollie Hale of taking more than his share and proceeded to attack him with an ashtray, pliers, a hammer, a fire extinguisher, a dumbbell, and finally a knife. Norington then rang 911 to report the incident.
In 1997, Norington was released from prison after serving half of his 15-year sentence for second-degree murder, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The Seattle Post tells us of an accident at a First Hill intersection, where two police cars collided while en route to the same location. Both vehicles were declared a total loss. Police spokesman Duane Fish said that 'it does not appear that the officers were traveling under lights and sirens', as they responded to a non-urgent call at 2:30am (a resident of the First Hill Care Center had locked himself in the loo and refused to leave). Two vehicles waiting at the traffic light were also damaged; one was an undercover detective's sport-utility vehicle.

17 April 2002

Marie Walton, 42, lay in her bed in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, for up to four months after she died of an untreated stomach ailment. She was kept company at night by her house-mate, Betty Freeman, 73, who slept in the same room as the corpse and 'left her exactly where she was'. Freeman went on to explain at an inquest that 'I panicked and became confused' when Walton quickly and quietly died. The inquest was told that the body was found after the letting company informed social services of the squalid conditions in the home.

Reuters reports that a court in Strasbourg, France, found a woman guilty of premeditated armed violence for testing her new tear gas canister on a shopper. The 35-year-old woman, who was not named in the case, told the court that she merely wanted to try out the device when she sprayed a woman who had just returned to her car in a supermarket car park. The woman was satisfied neither with her four-month suspended sentence nor with the tear gas, which she said left the victim still able to thrash about and scare her by shouting.

The Toronto Star reports that Mark McPherson threw empty coffee cups out of his SUV onto a residential street. A 45-year-old witness picked up the cups and followed the SUV for a few kilometres. Noticing that he was being followed, McPherson stopped his vehicle, whereupon the two men started to argue about littering. Sergeant Frank Grivich of the Niagara Region police said that 'the witness tried to throw the coffee cups at the suspect, hoping to throw them inside the vehicle'. So McPherson produced a gun, scaring off the witness but earning himself charges in connection with drawing the gun.

A Richmond, Virginia, judge denied an executed killer's family the option of carrying out his last request. Daniel Lee Zirkle asked that his ashes be spread on the graves of his daughter and her half-sister, who he murdered when they were 4 and 14, respectively. The judge had entered a temporary injunction barring Zirkle's family from entering the cemetery where Christina Zirkle and Jessica Shifflett are buried. The girls' mother, Barbara Jo Shifflett, said of Zirkle 'He's still trying to torment me.'

Beaverton, Oregon, police spokesman Mark Hyde said a woman called Scholls Heights Elementary School to report that there was a bomb inside the school. A few minutes later, a woman rang to ask whether the 'Mad Science' after-school education programme had been cancelled. Half an hour later, a woman called in to warn that a bomb would go off at 3pm, the same time the after-school programme was due to start. Police traced the calls to the phone of Kimberly F. Haggard, 39, who was arrested when she showed up at 3pm to teach the class. Hyde said that Haggard simply explained that she 'just wasn't up to teaching a class today'.
When asked whether Haggard would return to work, Brad McLean, sales and marketing manager at the company that runs the programmes, said: 'My guess would be that, no, she won't.'

When you visit your boss and his wife, it isn't always a good idea to install hidden cameras. Ted Hudson of Casper, Wyoming, was arrested for doing just that, in an attempt to tape his boss's wife while she took a shower. The couple noticed the camera and called police. A poor-quality videotape of a nude woman about to take a shower was found in the company van that Hudson drove. The AP report that Hudson explained that he intended the crime as a practical joke.

Damon J. Francis stands accused of stealing a street sweeper, its keys, and fuel cards from Contract Sweepers and Equipment, a Lockland, Ohio, company where he had once done temporary work. He abandoned a white Cadillac in the car park. Then, driving the street sweeper, he tried to cross the Canadian border. But Michigan police were waiting for him; Francis, 24, had left his driver's licence in the Cadillac. He has requested to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Emphysema patient Joseph Bonk, 61, of Croydon, Pennsylvania, was on about six litres of oxygen a minute when he decided to have a cigarette. He suffered second-degree burns to the face and lost some hair in the flames, said Mike Plebani, operations manager for the Bucks County Rescue Squad, who were called to Bonk's home to deal with the effects of the incident.

Peter Markovina, 19, had a brighter future when he was merely the morning manager of a Pizza Hut in North Huntingdon Township, Pennsylvania.
An armed man robbed the Parkvale Savings and Loan branch office, which is 100 metres from the pizza parlour, and left his car in front of the Pizza Hut. Police went inside to ask the Pizza Hut staff if they had seen anything. At this point, they discovered that Markinova had left work for a few minutes at the time of the bank robbery. The car was his.
Township police Chief Charles Henaghan said that 'all the money was there; the handgun, too. It was all still inside the car'. This is the third time the Parkvale branch office has been robbed in less than two years.

Lanesboro, Minnesota, police chief John Tuchek reported a fire downtown. He appeared in court on Friday to face charges that he himself started the blaze, which destroyed two historic buildings. Tuchek admitted to setting fire to some cardobard in an alley behind the apartment where his ex-girlfriend and her baby lived. He explained that he hoped to put out the fire or show up as firefighters arrived, for he 'wanted to do something that would make (her) proud of him' and cause her to take him back. Fed by natural gas, the fire had grown more quickly than Tuchek expected.

Folsom, Louisiana, authorities say a Good Samaritan rescued William Buck and Jermaine Henderson's Chevy Suburban after it got stuck in the mud. Rather than leaving the area, this pair of burglars hid their stash in the woods and burgled another house. At this point, the vehicle got stuck again - in the mud in the front yard, where the homeowner found it. Police have arrested Buck and Henderson, report the Associated Press.

In another AP report, Meredith Berkman of Manhattan, New York, has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the company who make Pirate's Booty corn and rice puffs. The snack contains three times as much fat as is indicated on the label, and Berkman claims that this has caused her emotional distress. Robert's American Gourmet Food, Inc. recalled the snack after the Good Housekeeping Institute discovered that it contained 8.5 rather than 2.5 grams of fat and at least 20 per cent more calories than indicated - but not before Berkman suffered 'weight gain, mental anguish, outrage and indignation'. She said she will donate her winnings, if any, to an eating disorder clinic.

The city of Binghamton, New York, wants Stephen Menz to remove the signs he erected near a property he owns: 'We have drugs. Come on in.' This comes after police failed to charge the tenant in connection with a March drug bust in which two teenaged drug buyers were charged with felonious possession of drugs. The publicity has led to decreased activity on the premises, but the signs go against city ordinances.
Menz said: 'I've got to do something. I'm a landlord and I have no power here'. Without a signed lease, he has to give notice of eviction, then participate in a hearing, then wait for eviction to be scheduled - a process that could take more than two months.

28 April 2002

Dennis O'Connell, 52, of Tenafly, New Jersey, called family friend John Raymond Ritter between 3 and 5 in the morning to announce that he was coming to visit. When O'Connell arrived, Ritter beat him and left him outside in a coma, with permanent brain damage. Both men had been drinking.
Ritter, 22, plead guilty and admitted that he went inside after the beating and fell asleep (a few hours later, a neighbour saw O'Connell's body and summoned police). But he told Superior Court Judge William C. Meehan: 'I came back outside to check on him' - to which assistant prosecutor Mark Thonus replied: 'When you went back outside, you brought toilet paper with you and you, in fact, defecated on him.' Ritter nodded in agreement.

The Seattle Times reports that Anita Durrett, 42, of North Bend, Washington, is suing two teenaged employees of Woodinville's Albertson's shop for causing her to 'become agitated, break the speed limit, and hit a tree' last June. Her nine-year-old daughter died in the accident. The employees had confronted Durrett in the car park after she stole groceries worth $266.16. When asked for her receipt, she fled, leaving the groceries behind. The employees had her licence number and description, the suit alleges, yet they drove off in pursuit - reaching speeds of 145 km/h - and didn't use their mobile phone to call police until Durrett's car met the tree. Durrett says they should have considered the fact that she had a child in the car.

Florida's St. Petersburg Times reports on a Hernando man whose pink and white van was stolen. William R. Johnson, 79, explained to police that he drove a prostitute into the woods for a sexual excursion but couldn't perform. The woman demanded payment, but Johnson told her he would pay only when he was ready. So she hit Johnson over the head and stole his van and wallet. Ronda Hemminger Evan, speaking for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, said she didn't know if Johnson would face charges in connection with the incident.

And in Brevard County, Florida, a convenience store's security camera caught a burglar entering from the room, grabbing five pornographic magazines, and trying unsuccessfully to break the glass door. He used a magazine rack to hit the door, but he merely ended up falling down. Giving up on the door, he climbed out through the roof. 'The funny thing is all he had to do is unlock the door' said Sheriff's Deputy Vince Ziccardi.

The Ottawa Sun reports on another sexually charged incident. Fired from her job as a server at a strip club, an employee showed up for work the following day and was 'told again she didn't work there', said Detective Dan Brown. The unidentified 100-pound Ottawa woman proceeded to launch an attack on her former employer, Fanny's Cabaret. She dumped tuna-filled plastic bags in the coat-check area and champagne room. Not content with adding a fish stench to tables, chairs, and walls, the 34-year-old woman then emptied two small canisters of pepper spray near the club's bar. Employees pointed out the culprit to police when they arrived.

Spokane, Idaho, police headquarters may not be the safest place to lock your bike, as Chris Geier discovered. After a trial he had to attend for class, the Gonzaga University law student found his montain bike missing from the bike rack, so he reported the theft to Officer Susan Mann at the front desk. Mann explained that Jason H. Holloway, the 22-year-old son of one of her neighbours, told her that he had lost the key to his bike lock and asked her to use her bolt cutters to help him.
So she promised to get Geier's bike back, albeit without the $30 lock. She succeeded by calling Holloway's mother and offering to file a warrant if her son - who had a police record - didn't return the bike.

A Tampa, Florida, man solicited sex from an undercover officer posing as a teenaged prostitute. On her signal, two officers pulled up to Christopher Jackson's car to arrest him. Police spokeswoman Katie Hughes said Officer William Jordan told Jackson, 30, to put his hands on the steering wheel but Jackson instead rolled the window up. So Jordan used his gun to knock on the car window. The gun went off and hit the 30-year-old Jackson in the arm and upper torso. He is in hospital, recovering. Hughes said: 'You can't plan for accidents.'

The Des Moines Register reports on a woman who did decide to have sex in a vehicle. Burlington, Iowa, police found Molly E. Burchett, 18, having sex with Nicholas Lee Huston, 23, while her 18-month-old child wandered in an alley nearby. County Attorney Patrick Jackson said: 'I could have seen them from my office window if I had looked out.' Huston was charged with driving while barred, in addition to indecent exposure. He was also wanted for failure to appear in court.

Gloucester Township, Pennsylvania, police reported that two sisters used a paintball gun to hold up a PNC Bank branch. As they fled on foot, their backpack split, spilling money onto the bank's lawn and then onto the road. While passers-by were busy grabbing about $1,700 of the $4,300 taken, police caught up with the girls on foot. Brandy Thomas, 19, and April Thomas-El, 23, were charged with armed robbery.

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© 2002 Anna Shefl