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News Quirks 04.27.05


Published April 27, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

When Vicky Siles of New Haven, Indiana, received a check for $1 from the Globe Life and Accident Co., she changed the amount to $4 million. Instead of taking the check to a bank to deposit, Siles took it to a check-cashing store and asked for cash. Never having seen a check for $4 million and suspicious because the dollar amount was torn where the original number had been altered, the clerk at American Cash Express called the insurance company, which confirmed that the check was bogus. According to court documents, "police were called."

- After New York City schoolteacher Wayne Brightly, 38, repeatedly failed his state certification exam, authorities said that he paid a homeless man with a developmental disorder $2 to take the test for him. Stand-in Rubin Leitner, who is 20 years older than Brightly and looks nothing like him, not only passed, but scored so high that state officials became suspicious and summoned Brightly for questioning. Instead of appearing himself, Brightly (black and thin) sent Leitner (white and overweight), who failed to fool anyone. "He said no one would ever know," Leitner told the Daily News.

Bound to Happen

Emert Wyss, an attorney in Alton, Illinois, sued himself. The case involved Carmelita McLaughlin, who hired Wyss, a real-estate lawyer, to handle her home refinancing and chose Centerre Title to close her loans. Wyss owns Centerre Title. When he became suspicious of $60 in fax fees being charged by the mortgage holder, Alliance Mortgage, he advised McLaughlin to file a class-action suit against Alliance. He recruited three other law firms to bring the action and was retained by one of the plaintiff firms for 10 percent of the attorney fees collected. Pretrial depositions revealed that although Alliance Mortgage received the fax fees, Centerre Title handled the transaction. At this point, Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis permitted the defense lawyers to add Centerre Title and Wyss as third-party defendants.

Second-Amendment Follies

Police in Tucson, Arizona, reported that Adrian "A.J." White-Wolff, 20, died when he accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with a gun in a car with his younger brother, Derrick, and some friends. "It was a stupid accident," the victim's mother, Doris Ann White-Wolff, told the Arizona Daily Star. "Derrick said A.J. thought he was Marshal Dillon, flipping the gun around. They thought they were having fun."

- Michael Lewis, 27, of Delphos, Kansas, told a sheriff's deputy that he was using a pellet rifle to shoot at a .22-caliber shell on a picnic table when a pellet hit the shell, causing it to explode. The bullet hit Lewis in the groin, sending him to the hospital.

Aim High

Eleven people signed up for Norway's second tree ski-jumping championships. The idea, according to organizer Oeystein Lia, 33, is to take flight from a mound of snow, fly through the air and land in a tree. For the completed jump to qualify, the skier has to hang onto the tree without falling to the ground. The higher up the tree, the softer the landing, because the branches are thinner and bend under the weight of the skiers. "You really have to dare to give it your all in the jump, so you end up near the top of the tree," Lia said. "If you don't, you can slam right into the trunk."

Scare Tactics

Hoping to scare away birds at the Beijing airport, officials imported a U.S.-made bird-dispersing machine, which works by amplifying recordings of birds or their natural enemies. The scarecrow machine failed to work, according to the Beijing Evening News, because the recordings were of American birds, and "local birds did not understand the foreign language." The paper reported that experts "translated" the bird noises into Chinese by recording "six or seven bird screams which are common in Beijing."

Mensa Reject of the Week

Albania's most-wanted man, Riza Malaj, 34, managed to elude capture for five years. Dubbed the "Last Cowboy" in northern Albania because of his gunfights with the law, Malaj met his match while fishing with dynamite when he miscalculated the length of the fuse and blew himself up. Doctors at the Bajram Curri hospital reported that he had lost both hands, badly hurt his eyes and suffered serious wounds all over his body.

Weighty Matters

Sales clerks discriminate against obese shoppers, unless they think the customer is dieting, according to a 5-year study at Rice University. The discrimination was subtle, consisting of less eye contact and more unfriendliness, said Eden King, one of the study leaders. In one phase of the study, obese shoppers carried either an ice-cream drink or a diet cola and told store employees that they were trying to lose weight. King said that the shoppers with the ice-cream drink reported the greatest amount of discrimination. Scott Krug-man of the National Retail Federation insisted that the survey doesn't prove

discrimination, only that some salesclerks are rude.

United We Annoy

Hoping to bring Jews and Arabs closer together, the first international pantomime festival, held in the Upper Galilee Arab-Israeli town of Shfaram, drew Arab and Jewish mimes, as well as performers from France, Italy, Bulgaria, Argentina and Britain. "We reach out without words," festival organizer Walid Yassin said, "because words may do harm."

Butt Brain

A cigarette smoked one minute before New Zealand's smoke-free laws took effect, banning smoking in most indoor facilities, was posted on the Internet auction site TradeMe ( and sold for more than US$5400. The butt, whose authenticity was attested by the owners of an Auckland bar, was described as a "priceless Kiwiana collector's item."