News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*A New York Times report on the first day's rescue operations for TWA Flight 800 in July mentioned a man in an army uniform who showed up at the crash-site command center and helped direct helicopter traffic for about twelve hours before those in charge realized they had no idea who he was. Though authorities agreed that the man had done a fine job, he was escorted from the area. In October the man, David Williams, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized practice of a profession and was sentenced to six months in jail. He had previously impersonated a physician, diagnosing Medicare patients for a private firm and teaching seminars; in both cases, employers were pleased with his work despite his lack of medical credentials.

*In October Linda Pugach bailed her husband Burton, age 69, out of jail after his arrest for threatening to kill his mistress. Linda and Burton go way back. In 1959 she was blinded in both eyes by a lye attack Burton arranged after she spurned his marriage proposal. He was released from prison in 1974 and went on a TV-show campaign to win her heart; a few months later she married him.

Compelling Explanations
*A Winnipeg, Manitoba, court ordered accused wife killer Dean Eric Wride to undergo routine psychiatric tests in September, despite his lawyer's protest that such pretrial treatment might actually cure him and thus hurt his insanity defense.

*Ohio University Prof. Dwight Pugh was officially reprimanded in October by his dean for having filled out and submitted his own course evaluations for six consecutive quarters rather than having his students do it. (He rated himself very high.) Pugh said he was merely testing the evaluation process.

*According to their lawsuit in Salt Lake City, U.S. West telephone company technicians admitted they were paid a $70 per diem allowance for more than two years for purportedly working away from home, when in fact they had never moved and were actually working in the same place they had always worked. But when the company discovered its error and cut off the per diem, Charles Mangrum and Alan Montierth filed lawsuits challenging the cutoff and also sued their union for not helping them fight it. In September a federal judge granted a summary judgment for the company.

*Arrested for murder in central Georgia in 1992 and briefly left unsupervised in a police car, Melissa Leslie Burgeson discussed the crime with her boyfriend, including how they should have done the murder differently. A hidden tape recorder captured the discussion, which was introduced against Burgeson in her trial. She challenged its use, claiming that an arrestee has a constitutional expectation of privacy when sitting in the back seat of a police car. In September 1996 the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed. (The boyfriend is on death row for the murder.)

Unclear On the Concept
*According to a Canadian press report in September, a customer at the Napierville, Quebec, pet shop Animalerie Napierville threatened to report the shop to the government's French-language monitoring office because she was shown a parrot that spoke only English.

*In April a 48-year-old woman in Mill Valley, California, survived a suicide plunge when she drove her car off a seaside cliff in Sonoma County. Witnesses said she was traveling 45 mph and fell 350 feet. She emerged with only minor injuries, probably because she had neglected to unfasten her seat belt before hitting the accelerator.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd