News of the Weird

Lead Story
*In a kidnapping trial in San Mateo, California, in July, the eleven-year-old victim was asked to identify the man who had abducted her. She gazed around the courtroom, past defendant John Paul Balocca sitting with his attorney, and pointed to juror number eleven. Fortunately Balocca had already confessed to the abduction; the purpose of the trial was to ascertain the degree of the crime.

The Litigious Society
*Recent adulterated-food lawsuits: for a spider in a breakfast at a Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, Denny's restaurant (April), the customer received a $1500 settlement; for a human fingertip in deli ham at a Publix in Tampa (May), a jury awarded $13,000; for a cockroach in the collard greens at an Orangeburg, South Carolina, KFC (June), a jury awarded $607,500. On the other hand, a judge in San Luis Obispo, California, ruled in March that the mouse in Richard Lang's McDonald's hot apple pie had been inserted after the sale. Also in March, highly regarded scientist Michael Zanakis, age 43, was indicted in Brooklyn, New York, for extortion for allegedly planting a rat's tail in his son's McDonald's Happy Meal and then demanding five million dollars.

*Perennial Kentucky candidate Thurman Jerome Hamlin, age 73, has lost races for governor, the U.S. Senate and House, and several other offices without complaining of injustice. In May, however, he filed a federal class-action employment-discrimination lawsuit against the University of Kentucky because it failed to interview him when the position of men's basketball coach became available.

*James Van Gorder, age 31, filed a lawsuit in August against the Parkway Chiropractic Center in Detroit for negligence during his recent treatment for back pain. According to Van Gorder, the chiropractor had him take off his clothes and lie facedown on the two-part examining table. The way he was lying, his genitals fell between the parts; when the chiropractor adjusted the table, Van Gorder got caught. He claims extreme pain, suffering, disfigurement, and loss of sexual desire.

Government in Action
*In June, to publicize the fact that it would soon resume bulk trash pickups (suspended for several months because of budget problems), the District of Columbia Department of Public Works made TV public service announcements demonstrating that its crews were back at work. According to the Washington Business Journal, fresh bulk trash (appliances, sofas, et cetera) was brought in, at additional cost, to give the ads the proper look, despite the fact that residents had a huge backlog of the same items they were perfectly willing to put out on the curb for free.

*A February New York Daily News story detailed the procedures that must be followed when an NYPD squad car needs a new tire. The officer must fill out a Tire Replacement Request form and send it to the Tire Integrity Unit, go pick up a tire at a city vehicle maintenance facility, take it to a city-approved vendor to have it put on, then take the old tire back to the police garage and have the precinct commander sign the Tire Replacement Request form certifying that the new tire had been put on the car. In 1995, the last year for which figures were available, NYPD salaries paid during the tire-changing tango were nearly $500,000.

-- By Chuck Shepherd