News of the Weird 

Screwdriver facial, excessive flatulence and more

Lead story: Barney Vincelette, who says his autism renders loud noises sickening to him, has been feuding for several years with neighbors in Houston, Del., over their rock music. At first, he invented his own sound-jammer, according to an April profile in the Wilmington News Journal, but a judge curtailed its use. Subsequently, he recorded superannoying sounds of his own (including a foghorn) and had them written out as music ("Sonata for Calliope of Truck Horns About to be Transcribed for Locomotive Horns Opus No. 1"), at which point the judge decided that permitting the neighbors' Bon Jovi but not Vincelette's sonata amounted to selective law enforcement, and the feuders settled their differences. (Vincelette, by the way, lives in a house shaped like a flying saucer.)

The continuing crisis: The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which operates mass transit just south of San Francisco, and whose employees stage about three dozen office parties a year, issued 33 pages of specifications in January to invite local companies to bid on a contract to supply sheet cakes. The winning bidder must be versatile enough to offer cakes in 11 specified flavors, 16 fillings, five icings and six toppings (but must also carry $3 million in liability insurance!).

Yikes!: 1) After a street assault in January, a 22-year-old New Zealander was rushed to Wellington Hospital to have surgeons remove his car key, which was embedded behind his right ear. 2) After a vicious attempted carjacking in March, an 18-year-old Australian was sent to Fremantle Hospital in Perth, where surgeons removed a screwdriver embedded in his face.

Awesome!: Mexico City taxi driver Manuel Quiroz was seeking a sponsor earlier this year for his pursuit of the world raw-chili-pepper-eating contest. Supposedly, he can guzzle dozens of them at one sitting and even harmlessly squeeze their juice into his eyes.

Bright ideas: In breathtaking attention to detail reminiscent of the movie The Great Escape, some inmates at Michigan's Kinross Correctional Facility chipped through 8 inches of concrete, then continued tunneling until they had cleared the facility's two external walls by an extra 25 feet, but then a guard spotted an irregularity near a cell wall and discovered the operation. When stopped in March, the inmates were only 6 feet away (straight up) from freedom. (As in the movie, their greatest accomplishment was figuring out how to dispose of all that dug-out dirt without being noticed.)

To get her reluctant terrier "Missy" to eat dog food, Elaine Larabie decided to be a role model and eat some herself, after which Missy indeed began nibbling at it. The next day, both Larabie and Missy were in Ottawa, Ontario, hospitals, vomiting and foaming at the mouth. The incident occurred in March, during the first days of the alert over rat-poison-laced pet food, and doctors suspected that as the culprit, but no definitive conclusion was reported in the press, and both Larabie and Missy recovered.

Ewwwww!: Stewart Laidlaw, 35, was banished from Thirsty Kirsty's pub in Dunfermline, Scotland, in March, following numerous complaints about his excessive flatulence. (A shocked Laidlaw said no one had complained before, but conceded that was probably because cigarette smoke had been masking the odor until Scotland's recent smoking ban.) And in December, an American Airlines flight made an emergency stop in Nashville, Tenn., when passengers reported the smell of burning matches in the cabin. A female passenger was found to have been lighting them at her seat in an effort to vanquish her flatulence odors.

Fetishes on parade: Tools of the Trade: 1) Michael Derenberger, 40, was charged with illegal voyeurism in Hernando, Fla., in March after being caught sticking a long pole with a hook on it through a girl's bedroom window, to pull down her comforter as she slept. 2) A 48-year-old man in Stockton, England, was found dead in January, naked, inside a large plastic bag attached to a vacuum cleaner, with police concluding at an April inquest that he got his sexual kicks through asphyxiation by having the vacuum suck all the air out of the bag.

Least competent criminals: Two men walked into a postal annex in Portland, Ore., in April, with one wielding a folding pocket knife, and announced a robbery. However, seconds later, the employees began laughing as the man with the knife couldn't get the blade out with his thumbnail, and the pair fled.



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