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September 2005

22 September 2005

On Tuesday, pilots of a jet chartered by Gambian president Yahya Jammeh falsely claimed they were running low on fuel and made an emergency landing in Piura, Peru, rather than their scheduled destination of Lima. This caused emergency crews to scramble but - more importantly to some - allowed the 289 Gambian football fans aboard the flight to be on time for the FIFA Under-17 World Championships match held in Piura later in the evening. Speaking for the national aviation authority, CORPAC, Betty Maldonado said: 'It truly was a scam'.

Yale Metzger of Anchorage, Alaska, said he rang the police to ask them to examine a cannonball he'd been carrying around in his truck. He said that the officers didn't do as he'd asked and instead sent a bomb squad and remote-controlled robot to his home. The team took the cannonball to a landfill and blew it up, observing a secondary explosion. Metzger, a 45-year-old attorney, wants the police force to replace the cannonball. He says that, while it could have exploded and harmed the public, 'so could a meteor fall out of the sky and hit your truck'. An officer said the department didn't want to 'put a bomb technician's life in jeopardy over a cannonball' and called Metzger 'an idiot' for bringing the bomb into town and questioning the bomb squad's decision.

Minnesota newspapers are carrying the obituary of Darlene Pirtle, 79. Following her retirement, she gradually became more reclusive and began spending more and more of her time in her upstairs bedroom in the south Minneapolis home she shared with nephew Sam Hastings, who moved out in 2002. Last winter, city inspectors boarded up the building. Pirtle's body was found in the upstairs bedroom eight months later. The city is now considering instating a requirement to walk through a property before it is boarded up.

Maura Ciardiello, a 48-year-old woman from Woodbridge, New Jersey, left her dog in her sport-utility vehicle while she picked up a few groceries late at night. When she returned to the SUV, Stephen Sexton was leaning against it. She said he told her she shouldn't have left her dog inside unattended. Not believing Sexton's claim to be a cop, she called for help and struggled as he pinned her against the side of the vehicle. Sexton, a state officer who was kicked off the local police force 10 years ago for trying to arrest a superior, apparently summoned local cops, who brought Ciardiello in for questioning and then released her. Before an ambulance collected her for treatment of wounds sustained in her struggle, officers told her the dog was in the hands of animal control workers. In fact, the animal had escaped from officers and was killed in traffic.

Ayas al-Alayli, 36, an employee of the Kuwaiti Information Office in Lebanon, wanted to show secretary Mirna Mugharbel that a civil-war-relic grenade on an office shelf wouldn't explode if thrown to the floor. Mugharbel was injured in the blast, and al-Alayli died. One other employee was injured.

Glenn Connolly, 35, of Youngstown, Ohio, rang the Pennsylvania state police to ask them to let his sister, Victoria Christie, know that Christie and Connolly's mother had died. Troopers obliged. They later found out that the woman was still alive. Connolly faces a $300 fine and 90 days in jail if convicted on charges of harassment.

Minnesota's Winona Daily News reports that Pauline Lillian Meyerhoff, 86, drove her red Cadillac through the Goodview Days annual parade. Police said Meyerhoff's car nearly mowed down several children, adults, and a girls' gymnastics team. The police weren't able to approach her until she reached her house. Police chief LaVern Hauschildt said that when Robert Koch ticketed her for reckless driving, 'she was upset that he was not enforcing the law to keep people off the streets while she was trying to drive on it'. The town of Goodview has asked the state to reconsider Meyerhoff's eligibility to drive.

The Scotsman reports that Edward Browne, 66, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, hung a carrier bag containing a bottle of vodka from the handlebars of his bicycle for his journey home from his local shop. An inquest heard that the swinging of the bag allowed the bottle to become jammed in the spokes, with Browne flying over the handlebars and onto the pavement, where he died of a skull fracture. At the scene, Constable Simon Edwards found a bent spoke in the bicycle's front wheel and the unopened vodka bottle with its neck smashed.

Indiana's Kenneth Liptak, Jr, 30, told police that when he left for work he immediately saw the lights and gates of a railroad crossing activated. He looked for westbound trains, which he knew the morning trains usually were. He said he didn't look the other way. A train was headed east, its journey taking it through the passenger side of Liptak's car. The car's twisted wreckage landed upside down. Police said it was a miracle that Liptak could wriggle free and needed no medical treatment following the incident. He was ticketed for disregarding a railroad signal.

A man in Joplin, Missouri, handed a US Bank employee a note that said: 'This man has a gun and wants my money'. The note, he explained upon the arrival of the police, referred to his ex-landlord, who had been waiting in the bank lobby. The man claimed to have been travelling down the street in his wheelchair when his ex-landlord stopped him and said he'd use his gun if the ex-tenant didn't withdraw enough money from his account to pay up on his rent. The ex-tenant, who said the rent underpayment was to compensate for being overcharged for utilities and food, said his former landlord also said he might return the man's possessions, including medical devices, if he paid up. The former landlord admitted to officers that the other man owed him $400 but said the ex-tenant had contacted him the previous evening and told him to be at the bank in the morning.
Joplin police commander Jim Hounschell said detectives have determined that whatever happened wasn't an attempted bank robbery.

As part of a training exercise in fingerprinting at the Royal New Zealand Police College, a recruit supplied his prints. They linked him to an arrest warrant for a serious assault, according to Wellington's Dominion Post. The training commander, Superintendent Alistair Beckett, said the recruit had slipped through cracks in rigorous screening of potential candidates. Now, he said, all applicants are to be fingerprinted before being given training.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the owners of Amura Japanese Restaurant don't want to move into a newly renovated building at Church Street Station on account of its resident ghosts. The owners of Church Street Station offered to bring in an exorcist to ease the sushi restauranteurs' fears. Christopher and Yoko Chung did not accept the deal. The Chungs' solicitor, Lynn Franklin, said: 'There have been several documented reports from subcontractors and others of having seen ghosts or apparitions' at the former brothel and claimed these weren't disclosed to the Chungs. David Simmons, representing the landlord, asked why it's such a problem if the ghosts aren't malevolent. The response came that Mr Chung's religion forbids him contacting spirits. Legal proceedings are pending.

Thamsanqa Ngema, Environmental Health Practitioner for Ethekwini province's department of health in South Africa, said inspections of funeral parlours are conducted twice a year and that all seemed 'in order' earlier this year at an Umlazi mortuary where it has emerged that corpses from 1991 were still in storage. When the electricity at KwaMhayisi Mortuary was disconnected due to lack of payment, 40 corpses made their presence in the facility's cold room known to neighbours' nostrils, and the police were called. Ngema said the department was unaware of the latest developments at the mortuary, which is still operating.

Malawi's Mary Mwagomba, 25, has been arrested on suspicion of using an axe to kill and dismember her nine-month-old son and then trying to kill herself. Police spokesperson Enock Livason said both the woman and her son had tested positive for HIV at a government hospital.
They do things slightly differently in India. In Goripudi, Andhra Pradesh, Chintaluri Kumari is accused of killing her adopted son because she feared he was infected with HIV. She told the police that the 10-month-old boy had been suffering from a fever, cough, and weight loss, and that neighbours suggested he might have been infected with the AIDS virus. She tied a stone to the baby and threw him into a well. The infant's body has been recovered, and murder charges have been registered against Kumari.

Police in Fife, Washington, report that they saw two men steal out in the middle of the night and prepare to liberate copper electrical wire from a high-voltage line with the aid of a rope. The officers said that before the theft could occur, electricity flowed down the rope, killing Julian LaPointe, 22, and burning his accomplice. Sparks caught the grass on fire. Detective Jeff Nolta said: 'It is not the first time thieves have targeted live power lines, but there's a reason it doesn't happen very often - [the copper is] not highly valuable'. Investigators believe the pair could have thought they were dealing with an abandoned power line.

A 42-year-old woman in Chiba prefecture, Japan, attacked her four-year-old daughter, who was reluctant to leave home to begin her school career. The woman then rang the police to turn herself in and get aid for her bleeding daughter. She is quoted as telling investigators: 'I got angry because she refused to go to kindergarten, and stabbed her'. She has been arrested for attempted murder, police said.

Also in Japan, a Nagoya man was reported to prosecutors for illegal dumping after leaving 134 kilos of household rubbish in a park. Aichi police officers suspect that the 30-year-old man left three years' worth of items such as magazines and empty food containers in the bushes at the park, in preparation for moving house. Officers quoted that man as saying 'I should have thrown the garbage away bit by bit', reports Mainichi Shimbun. The man was identified from a discarded salary slip.

On 7 September, South Carolina health workers were given half an hour's notice of the arrival of an aeroplane carrying up to 180 Hurricane Katrina evacuees to Charleston. Dr John Simkovich, director of public health for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, said 'all the available resources' did a phenomenal job in responding. Meanwhile, the plane was heading to a different Charleston, West Virginia's capital, about 645 kilometres away. Simkovich said there was a mistake in the system, 'coming out through FEMA'.

Justin W. Fraase, 26, of Fargo, North Dakota, wanted to get a protection order lifted by proving to the police that the woman he was supposed to stay away from actually wanted to see him. His proof came in the form of a covertly created videotape of him having sex with her. Lieutenant Tod Dahle said Fraase 'obviously didn't watch it before he gave it to us'. Apparently, Fraase summoned the woman to his home ostensibly to discuss child custody arrangements. When she arrived, he cornered her. Dahle said the video includes audio of the woman's struggle and makes it clear that the sex was undesired.

Tokyo's Eriko Kawaguchi complained to the police because the hit man she had hired to murder her lover's wife didn't complete the assignment. The 32-year-old Kawaguchi paid Takaharu Tabe about 15 million yen to remove the other woman, because of feeling betrayed by her lover when the man's wife gave birth. Tabe allegedly had told Kawaguchi that he would take the woman on a motorbike into a tunnel and then pour poisonous bacteria over her, and Kawaguchi said he later showed produced some white powder and reported that he'd killed his target. Kawaguchi went to the cops when she found out that this was a lie.

The Tennessean reports that driving test examiner Laurie Holden was trying to decide whether to give Nashville's Osman Salah, 25, a passing mark or not when the decision became easier: the road test ended with the man ploughing into the Rutherford County Driver License Station. Two customers were injured, reported the state's Department of Safety. Investigators believe Salah hit the accelerator instead of the brake. He will be eligible to try again for a driving licence in between seven and 30 days.

Dorothy Campbell has filed a lawsuit against 14 police officers who entered her home looking for marijuana they believed her 18-year-old son, Brandon, to possess. They didn't find illegal drugs, but they did , apparently, find Campbell's bureau drawer and leave her sex toys strewn about the home after playing with them and asking Brandon what she did with them. The officers also allegedly modelled her lingerie during the raid. Two officers are accused of later confiscating a tape the family made of a police sergeant apologising for the first raid, on the pretext that it contained pornographic images of a 14-year-old girl. Assistant City Attorney Greg Smith called Campbell's claims 'obviously false'.

The AP reports that an allegedly intoxicated driver in northern Australia shocked pursuing officers by jumping into the back seat to join his three passengers. Sergeant Wayne Jenkinson said: 'His cunning plan, in his muddled state of mind, was he wouldn't be the driver' and thus couldn't be arrested for driving while intoxicated.
An officer brought the car to a halt after its rapid deceleration. One of the passengers suffered minor injuries when she jumped from the driver-free vehicle. According to Jenkinson, charges of resisting arrest and driving under the influence of alcohol have been filed against the 24-year-old Canberra man, as have charges of driving in a dangerous manner, while disqualified, in an unregistered vehicle.

Texas's Deleese Williams was apparently promised, among other things, larger breasts and correction of a jaw deformity by the makers of 'reality television' programme Extreme Makeover. The night before her surgeries were to begin, Williams was told they had been cancelled, as the jaw work wouldn't heal before production deadlines. Her sister, Kellie McGee, became very upset because she and other family members had been coached to provide video footage on how ugly Williams was, with Williams in the next room. A lawyer for Williams, Wesley Cordova, said: 'Kellie could not live with the fact that she had said horrible things that hurt her sister'. Four months later, she killed herself with an overdose of pills, alcohol, and cocaine. Williams is suing ABC, who produce the programme, for $1 million.

In August 2004, I reported on Florida police officer John Douglas, who pepper sprayed a couple for mobile phone use in a cinema. A reader has alerted me to another case involving Douglas.
A pharmacy tech thought a prescription of Vicodin for 55-year-old Donald Austrino looked suspicious because emergency-room physicians do not normally issue prescriptions with refills. After verifying the general policy with an ER nurse, the tech reported prescription fraud. Neither she nor responding officer Douglas, a friend of hers, contacted the doctor, who had allowed a refill due to Austrino's plan to go on holiday. Austrino, arrested at 5am at his home, asked Douglas to talk to the doctor. As he later did in court, Douglas - apparently falsely - claimed to have done so. Austrino was taken to jail and given a body cavity search. He was released after the physician was contacted. In February, an appeals court ruled against the city, which paid out $45,000 for false arrest.


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