Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Beyond the nightly news," Oct. 11, 2003

'Ingrained' no more

Don't tell Italians that they can't legislate morality. Long known as having Europe's worst highway-safety records, Italy reduced its road deaths by 35 percent this summer after the government gave police the ability to strip reckless drivers of their licenses. "The new license is changing patterns of behavior that we thought were ingrained," said President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Hang up and trot

Police busted Dean Crichton for talking on a cell phone while driving-a horse and buggy. He was traveling about 2 miles per hour. But an Australian judge last month dismissed the $135 fine leveled against Mr. Crichton, who offers rides to Melbourne's tourists. "Technically you are guilty of the offense, but a horse and cart brings character to the streets," Magistrate Frank Jones said.

A thin, blue blur

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North Wales Police Constable Richard Brunstrom had had enough with speeders, calling them "anti-social" and "criminals." So he set up a camera-based enforcement system called "Arrive Alive"-and found that some of those anti-social criminals were his own officers. Of the 50,000 vehicles spotted speeding over the last year, about a dozen were police cars that were not headed to emergencies. The officers responsible now face $100 speeding tickets. Police spokeswoman Beth Mitcheson said "Arrive Alive" shows that traffic cameras don't discriminate between police and civilians. "We are often asked if it is one rule for us and another rule for everyone else," she told the Birmingham Evening Mail. "These figures prove that isn't the case."

Lukewarm pursuit

Moviegoers probably won't ever see a chase scene like the one last month outside a Charlie Peppers restaurant in Knoxville, Tenn. After spotting a man rifling through an employee's car, manager Andy Peitz watched as the man entered the restaurant and ordered a drink with the employee's credit card. When confronted, the man led employees on a leisurely "walking chase" through two parking lots. Police eventually caught the man. "I've dealt with a lot of dumb people in my time, but this guy is at the top," Mr. Peitz said. "The way he just tried to mosey away like it was no big deal."

Unhelpful helpings

Offering Americans all they can eat may be a dangerous business strategy nowadays. Too many customers apparently took Red Lobster's recent $22.99 all-you-can-eat crab offer as a challenge, and it cost the company's president, Edna Morris, her job. Darden Restaurants, Red Lobster's parent company, late last month fired Ms. Morris, saying the offer cost the company millions as customers ate much more than expected at the same time as the market price for crabs rose. "It wasn't the second helping on all-you-can-eat but the third," said Darden chairman John R. Lee in a conference call with investors and analysts. "And maybe the fourth," added CEO Dick Rivera.

I'm just a crook

James Perry of Clinton, Conn., was mistaken for a convicted sex offender, and he has no one to blame but himself. Concerned that his four drunk-driving arrests would prevent him from obtaining a driver's license, Mr. Perry allegedly stole the name and identity of his former neighbor in Florida, Robert Kowalski. The problem: A routine computer check revealed that Mr. Kowalski was a convicted sex offender in Michigan who would have to register as such if "moving" to Connecticut. When police confronted Mr. Perry, all of his identification labeled him "Robert Kowalski," though he insisted that he wasn't a sex offender. Fingerprints finally exposed his true identity, and he now faces charges of criminal impersonation, identity theft, and forgery.

Speak, but not to me

Usually only politicians come down on both sides of an issue, but U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham last month ruled that a national do-not-call list-to which his own office number belonged-was unconstitutional. The judge ruled that the list, which is aimed at telemarketers, infringed on free speech, but reporters later learned that he (or an office worker) had on July 28 added his number to the list. A call from the Associated Press to his office was not returned.

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