News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*In November Denver school board candidate Lee McClendon lost his race despite a vigorous campaign promising to improve kids' performances in reading, writing, and basic math. The loss might have had something to do with his 1984 guilty plea for attempted sexual assault of an eight-year-old boy, a fact the victim's family made public after McClendon announced his candidacy. The same day, however, voters in Chauncey, Ohio, elected Edward W. Stoll, age 48, to the village council despite the fact that he goes to trial in February on a rape charge.

*Malvin Marshall, age 27, was finally released from jail in North Charleston, South Carolina, on October 29 after being locked up for six weeks because a police field test had determined that the powder in his pants pocket was heroin. The state lab finally got around to analyzing the substance, which turned out to be vitamin pills that had gone through the wash while in his pocket. Said a police lieutenant: "The field test [is] not foolproof."

Government in Action
*U.S. Rep. Sam Farr of California introduced a bill this year to end a loophole in the federal unemployment-tax act that made it possible for a Santa Cruz voting monitor, who was a retired county worker, to put in one grueling day at the polls in November, claim the next day that he was "laid off," and thereby collect about $12,000 in benefits over a two-year period.

Courtroom Folly
*In September murder defendant Hosie Grant, age 72, seated on a bench in a courtroom in Little Rock, Arkansas, with other defendants at their arraignment, fell into a sound sleep as he waited for his case to be called. He was still asleep when his two daughters and a public defender entered a not guilty plea for him, but a benchmate shook him awake. He impulsively rose and shouted, "I plead guilty." The judge permitted the not guilty plea to stand.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time
*In July Gary and Marlene Johnston pleaded guilty in Halton, Ontario, to cheating the government out of $11,000 (Canadian) in welfare benefits. They had posed in 1995 as a destitute couple with two kids and a fifteen-year-old car as their only asset. In September 1996, however, they bought a house in a well-to-do neighborhood and parked their two late-model cars and a boat in the driveway. The new house was just down the street from the home of their welfare caseworker, who spotted them in the yard.

*In October James T. Hilton, who police said had just carjacked a van in Bloomfield, New Jersey, was captured after he accidentally banged into two unmarked police cars driving slowly down the street; they were leading a 5000-officer funeral procession for a state trooper.

Cliches Come to Life
*In October Tulsa firefighters were called to a church where a birthday party for Mabel McCullough was being held. The alarm had been triggered by smoke from the candles on the cake for the 95-year-old woman.

*In July Missouri's new vehicle safety law took effect; it prohibits passengers from riding in the open bed of a pickup truck. An exception was made for a family transporting their children if there are too many to ride in the cab and if the truck is the family's only vehicle. The sponsor called the exception the "Jed Clampett amendment."

-- By Chuck Shepherd