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News of the Weird 

Terrorism pays: The man convicted of blowing up the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people, lives in relative luxury in a private four-room suite in Glasgow's Barlinnie prison, according to a November report in Britain's News of the World. Abdelbaset al Megrahi, serving a minimum 27-year sentence, has a color TV, VCR, stereo, personal computer, kitchen, floral curtains, framed art and unlimited telephone access. A prison official said the man must be isolated because of the nature of his crime, but that Barlinnie had a limited choice of such facilities.

Crybabies: Joseph Tomaino of Neptune, N.J., won $3 million from a jury because a side effect of penile surgery was an erection that lasted for three days, which an appeals court later found did not interfere with most of his daily activities. (The trial judge, who wanted to give Tomaino even more money, had the case taken away from him by the appeals court in November.) ... Passenger Ivette Jones, who said she was traumatized in the October Staten Island ferry collision and couldn't sleep because she was so distraught, filed a $200 million lawsuit against New York City, $80 million more than claimed by a woman who lost both legs in the accident.

Can't possibly be true: The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune reported in November that a city of Oakland building inspector's employee, fired in February 2002, took a government car (with logo) with her when she left and that no one noticed it was missing for 18 months, until the ex-employee had accumulated $1,500 in traffic tickets. At that point, the owner of the car was called to get the car out of the impound lot. ... Angela Bridges filed a lawsuit in June against the Washington County (Ga.) Regional Medical Center and a doctor for failing to clean her wound properly. She fell into some shrubbery in her yard in 2002, cut her leg, and reported to the emergency room for cleaning and suturing. Nine months later, another physician found that a small boxwood twig, with five thriving green leaves, had broken through the sutured skin.

Least competent criminals: Jason Cody Jones, 27, was arrested in Florence, Colo., in November and charged with suspicion of theft in connection with $110,000 missing this year from J.P. McGill's casino, where Jones was a security guard. Jones called attention to himself by purchasing a motorcycle with 300 $20 bills and a pickup truck with a similar array of small bills, and for spending $35,000 during a six-month period this year while having earned only $6,400. ... In October, about $450,000 worth of marijuana plants were discovered in a downtown Chicago apartment after police noted an overpowering scent that wafted the length of the building's hallway. They arrested a Navy Pier worker and five students, one of whom voluntarily answered the police knock to inadvertently reveal marijuana plants covering almost every surface in the front room (as well as one room air freshener, which an occupant had optimistically placed near the door).

Readers' choice: Waiting for a rush-hour bus in East St. Louis, Ill., Emanual Fleming tried to use a pay phone but received a busy signal, then stuck his right middle finger into the coin-return slot but couldn't get it out. With his free hand, he called 911, and ambulance personnel had to take both Fleming and the telephone to the hospital, where, three hours after he got stuck, doctors numbed the finger and worked it out of the slot.

Also, in the last month: In Salem, N.H., a sophisticated fake-report-card scheme was busted when several students insisted on boosting their D's all the way up to A's, provoking their parents to call the principal to see why their kids weren't on the honor roll. ... A 43-year-old man in East St. Louis, Ill., said he'd plead guilty in December to his fourth shoplifting conviction in two years, each one involving grocery store pork products. ... A bank robber in Modesto, Calif., who had forgotten to cut eyeholes in his mask (and who kept lifting it to peek out) nonetheless escaped with his loot -- but not before banging into a steel doorframe on his way out.

Old lead foot: n July, a Los Angeles Times reporter, citing "scientists and others who study the problem," wrote that as many as 10,000 auto collisions since 1985 have been caused by "unintended acceleration" (e.g., hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake, accelerating in a mistaken gear). Recent news stories suggest this problem is particularly acute with (and perhaps even largely confined to) senior citizens. In July and August alone, at least nine seniors (aged 71 to 90) caused unintended-acceleration collisions in Florida, Georgia, California, Massachusetts, Illinois and Tennessee, in addition to the July Santa Monica, Calif., farmer's market incident in which an 86-year-old man killed 10 people because he was unable to move his foot to the brake while traveling nearly three blocks.

Update: Tony Martin (introduced in News of the Weird in 1999) is one of Britain's most prominent criminals, sentenced to six years in prison for defending his property by shooting one burglar to death and wounding another. He was turned down for early parole in 2002, and also for a trial home visit in July, on the official ground that he continued to pose a threat to burglars. However, he was granted parole by statute in August and now must prepare to defend a civil suit by the surviving, limping burglar, Brendon Fearon, who claims the gunshot permanently disabled him. In August, London's Sun newspaper surreptitiously videotaped Fearon walking without a limp and effortlessly bicycling and climbing stairs.

(c) 2003 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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