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Racing to dance: In April, choreographer Jenefer Davies Mansfield staged her NASCAR Ballet production at the Roanoke (Va.) Ballet Theatre. It featured 20 colorfully unitard-clad dancers wearing corporate patches of the theater's sponsors, prancing and leaping around a banked-racetrack stage (to New Age music and the sounds of revving engines), "racing" but occasionally crashing into each other and being "rescued" by other "pit crew" dancers. Mansfield was hoping for a big crossover audience of NASCAR fans gathered for a big race in nearby Martinsville. "In this business," she said, "you've got to take chances."

Scenes of the surreal: In December, police in Lewiston, Maine, chased down a patient from St. Mary's Regional Medical Center who, apparently fed up with his hospital regimen, had fled the building on foot, clad only in his gown in the icy rain, and dragging his wheeled IV pole behind him. And Gary C. Laine, 48, wanted on a fugitive murder warrant from California, turned himself in to police in Kerrville, Texas, in February and, apparently seeking to look cooperative, had already handcuffed himself before walking into the station.

Fetishes on parade: William Rhode, 53, was arrested in February and charged in several incidents in which he visited day care centers in the New Jersey towns of Hardyston, Jefferson and Pequannock, and inquired about employment, even though at the time he was dressed in pink women's tights and wore a large diaper. The first two visits were alarming enough, but police arrived after the Holy Spirit School in Pequannock reported that Rhode had actually relieved himself in front of students.

Lame excuse: In Los Angeles in February, Michael Marks, 25, raising an insanity defense to attempted murder, said he was drug-crazed at the time of the crime because someone on a balcony above him had spilled PCP on top of his head and that it must have affected his thinking. (He was convicted.)

Compelling explanation: Missouri high school principal Robert D. Blizzard, 58, was arrested in Oklahoma in December and charged with indecent exposure after he was reported driving with his inside light on and his pants down, flashing motorists. When the arresting officer asked him how he could keep control of the car like that, Blizzard modestly explained that it was no more difficult than "talking on a cell phone."

Not my fault: In Cleveland in March, John Struna won his lawsuit against a convenience store owner who had sold him Ohio Lottery tickets, claiming that the man ought to have explained a lottery rule to him (even though the rules are printed on every ticket). Struna had bought 52 tickets playing the same numbers in a game that pays $100,000 per winning ticket, but somehow he never noticed that the payout would be capped at $1 million, meaning that his 52 winning tickets would be worth only about $19,230 each. Despite being a heavy lottery player (spending $125,000 a year), Struna said it was up to the store owner to explain that rule to him, and the jury agreed.

He has issues: Serial thief Colin Sadd, 41, pleaded guilty in April in Sheffield, England, to his latest capers, including swiping five cars that he had gotten dealers to let him test drive. As with his previous car thefts, Sadd drove them around, cleaned them up inside, and washed and waxed them before abandoning them. Said his wife, "He desperately needs help with his obsession."

Least competent criminals: Cardinal rules, broken: 1) Don't carry around the holdup note: Christopher Alexander Fields, 42, was charged in Hillsborough, N.C., in January after police found him acting suspicious in front of a Central Carolina Bank branch. The only real evidence of his intention was a note in his backpack reading, "I want $10,000 in $100 bills. Don't push no buttons, or I'll shot (sic) you." 2) If you're paying with counterfeit money, pay and go: Anthony Lee Lamb, 20, and two alleged accomplices were arrested in Berea, Ky., in March after Lamb paid for a meal at a McDonald's and then sat down to eat it, thus giving the manager a chance to examine Lamb's fake $20 bill more carefully.

Thinning the herd: A 21-year-old junior at the University of California at Berkeley became the latest drinking-contest fatality in a March game among friends who repeatedly downed shots of tequila, vodka and whiskey. ("[He] was a competitive guy," said his roommate.) And a 20-year-old Carleton University (Ottawa, Ontario) student plunged to his death in February during a contest to see who could spit the farthest off an 11th-floor balcony. He had taken a running start.

Also, in the last month ...: A 24-hour camera on a German Internet site featuring only an extended family of wild boars drew 1.5 million viewers in its first two weeks. And businessman Sam Walls, at first competitive in the Republican primary for a seat in the Texas Legislature, lost after recent-year photographs surfaced of his cross-dressing days as Samantha Walls.

2004 CHUCK SHEPHERD

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