Dispatches > Quick Takes
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Quick Takes

Oddball occurrences

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

Reptile ruse

Few would attempt to smuggle animals through an international airport. Almost no one would be willing to hide multiple reptiles on his person. That makes Michael Plank of Los Angeles County unusual. Authorities discovered Plank traveling through airport customs at LAX with 15 live lizards strapped to his chest. He had been returning from Australia when customs agents discovered two geckos, 11 skinks, and two small monitor lizards strapped to his body. The reptiles have a street value of $8,500, but now Plank could face a smuggling fine of up to $250,000.

Parent trap

A clueless Illinois teen phoned the cops Nov. 15 to complain that his parents had stolen his Xbox 360. When an officer arrived at the Buffalo Grove, Ill., home after the 911 call, the teen, apparently unfamiliar with the concept of ownership, asked the officer if his parents had the legal authority to confiscate the gaming system. A police report indicates the officer "advised him that he needed to listen to his parents."

Eating the evidence

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One Cleveland man may have been caught red-handed, but he managed to get rid of some evidence by eating it. When police in Twinsburg, Ohio, stopped John H. Ford, they discovered a .38-caliber pistol and red-ink-stained money in his passenger seat. Ford is a suspect in several bank robberies. While cops were searching his vehicle, Ford managed to chew and swallow the note he handed to a bank teller at a First Merit Bank outside of Cleveland. Authorities only discovered Ford's act after reviewing footage from the police cruiser's dashboard camera.

Nightmare on ice

A Canadian teen and three polar bears found themselves stranded for two days on a floating chunk of sea ice in the northern Hudson Bay. Miraculously, it was the teen who survived. Authorities in the Nunuvut say Jimmy Nakoolak and his 17-year-old nephew Jupi became stranded in the Canadian wilderness on Nov. 6 when their snowmobile broke down, forcing the pair to set out on foot across the ice toward a tiny island village. Along the way, they became separated on ice floes. Jupi said he soon discovered he was not alone on his piece of ice. And authorities say the teen was forced to shoot one of the bears in self-defense when the three came too close. Rescue workers discovered the boy alive after two nights on the ice and took him to a local hospital where he was recovering from hypothermia. Jimmy was discovered alive by searchers earlier.

Historical pork

So this is what Capitol Hill leaders meant when they advocated for stimulus funds for shovel-ready projects? Congress appears ready to direct a small part of the $787 billion earmarked for economic stimulus toward preserving an old gas station owned by the late "First Brother" Billy Carter. Last month the house approved a measure to incorporate Billy Carter's Plains, Ga., gas station into the National Park Service operation that oversees historical sites in former President Jimmy Carter's hometown. Lawmakers have floated a similar proposal in the Senate. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost the park service $17 million to restore and run the gas station and the town's welcome center for the next five years.

Feline power

A cat in Carrollton, Ill., used up one of its nine lives on Nov. 23. Utility workers told the Associated Press that the cat touched a substation's fuse, causing a power outage to 1,500 homes and businesses. The workers found the cat, still alive, on the ground several feet from where it had touched the fuse.

TV exposure

For three years, Ronald Hunt of Los Angeles claimed that he was disabled. He collected about $150,000 in insurance benefits, even as he continued to work as an interior designer in California. The ruse worked-until an employee of the insurance company he was bilking saw him on a Home and Garden Television program and turned him in to authorities. Hunt pleaded guilty to two felony counts of fraud and was sentenced on Nov. 17 to 200 hours of community service and payment of $180,000 in restitution.

Photo negative

Nathalie Blanchard apparently testified against herself without realizing it. The 29-year-old Canadian says her insurance company cut off benefits she was receiving for her struggle with depression. The reason: The company discovered pictures on her Facebook that depicted her having a happy time during a beach vacation. Blanchard had been on paid sick leave from IBM in Quebec for a year when her insurer said the pictures of her having fun at a bar and posing in a bikini at a beach were evidence that she was no longer depressed.

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