News of the Weird: A rich janitor, free booze and a snake trapped in an unusual hole
The man with the golden mop
San Francisco’s best-paid janitor earned more than a quarter-million dollars cleaning stations for Bay Area Rapid Transit in 2015, according to a recent investigation by Oakland’s KTVU. Liang Zhao Zhang cleared almost $58,000 in base pay and $162,000 in overtime, and other benefits ran his total income to $271,243. He worked at San Francisco’s Powell Street station, a hangout for the homeless, who notoriously sullied the station 24/7 (urine, feces, and needles, especially), necessitating overtime hours that apparently only Zhang was interested in working. In one stretch during July 2015, he pulled 17-hour days for two and a half straight weeks.
Wrong place, wrong time
An Abbotsford, British Columbia, burglar was successful in his Feb. 7 break-in at a home, but his getaway was thwarted by a snowfall that blocked him in on a roadway. He eventually decided to ask a passer-by for help — and inadvertently picked out a man (of the city’s 140,000 residents) whose house he had just broken into (and who recognized him from reviewing his home’s security camera footage). The victim called police, who arrested the man (and reported that it was the second residential break-in that night in which the snowfall had foiled a burglar’s getaway.)
1. In Portland, Oregon, in January, Ashley Glawe, 17, a committed “goth” character with tattoos, piercings and earlobe holes (“gauges”) was, she said, “hanging out” with Bart, her pet python, when he climbed into one of the lobes. She couldn’t get him out, nor could firefighters, but with lubrication, hospital emergency workers did (thus avoiding an inevitable split lobe if Bart had kept squeezing his way through).
2. Iraqi forces taking over an ISIS base in Mosul in January reported finding papers from at least 14 Islamic State “fighters” who had tried to claim “health” problems, asking commanders to please excuse them from real combat (and martyrdom). One (a Belgian man) actually brought a note from a doctor back home attesting to his “back pain.” Five of the 14 were initiated by volunteers from France, a country that endures a perhaps-deserved national reputation for battle-avoidance.
Legislators in Iowa and Florida recently advanced bills giving women who receive legal abortions up to 10 years (or longer, in Iowa) to sue the doctor if the abortion winds up causing them “emotional distress.” (Doctors in all states are already liable, of course, for actual “negligence” in their practice.) In the Iowa version (which the Des Moines Register reported would likely face amendments), even a signed consent form by the patient would not immunize the doctor (but might mitigate the amount of damages awarded).
German art collector Rik Reinking paid the equivalent of about $138,000 in 2008 for a resplendent, complex drawing by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, but it was one created in ink on the skin of (the still-alive) tattoo parlor manager Tim Steiner — to be delivered only upon Steiner’s death, when his skin will be displayed in Reinking’s collection. (The deal also requires that, in the meantime, Steiner personally showcase his back at galleries three times a year, and BBC News recently caught his latest appearance.)
More things to worry about
Higher Math: The first robots to have survived journeys close to the “core” of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan (which melted down in a 2011 earthquake) returned a reading of 530 “sieverts” per hour. (Some scientists label just 4 Sieverts an hour fatal to half the people exposed to it.) Since the robots stopped short of the actual nuclear fuel, and since they only visited one of the three cores, the true danger of Fukushima remains unknown. (On a more optimistic note, scientists in February said they have developed a computer chip that would survive on the surface of Venus for 21 days, eclipsing the old record of two hours — long enough to send back meaningful data, including the temperature. The current estimated temperature is 878 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Priests gone bad
1. Prominent Tallahassee, Fla., pastor O. Jermaine Simmons, a community leader who ministers to the homeless and downtrodden, was rescued by police on Jan. 17, naked and hiding behind a fence after making a run for it when the husband of his mistress found the two in bed. The husband, screaming, “I’m gonna kill him,” ran for his handgun, and the mistress summoned police, but by Jan. 30, all involved had declined to press charges. Simmons, married with a son, is highly regarded for good deeds such as running a “cold night” shelter.
2. The decidedly uncelibate Catholic priest Don Andrea Contin, 48, of Padua, Italy, was accused by three women in December of having as many as 30 different lovers over the years, organizing “orgies” on church property, visiting a “swingers’” resort in France several times, making pornographic home videos of his trysts, “encouraging” one woman to have sex with a horse and “always” carrying a briefcase full of vibrators, sex toys and bondage equipment. Contin has not yet been charged with a crime but, said a Catholic official, is “finished” as a priest. (Bonus: The boxes for his home videos were labeled by the names of Popes.)
In January, a New York City judge dismissed the original indictment of John Kennedy O’Hara, 55, who had been convicted in 1996 of the crime of “felony voting” — the only person convicted under that state law since Susan B. Anthony, who cast a ballot in 1872 even though females were barred from the polls. O’Hara was indicted for voting in 1992 and 1993 after registering in Brooklyn elections from a “bogus” address — a basement apartment that was considered uninhabitable. (A judge in 2017 determined that the apartment “could” have been habitable.) O’Hara paid $15,000 in fines and did 1,500 hours of community service.
Least competent criminals
Recurring Themes: In January, curiosity got the better of a perp. Adriana Salas, 26, allegedly stole a truck in Jonesboro, Ark., and drove it to Fort Smith, 260 miles away, but then could not resist stopping by the local sheriff’s office to ask whether the truck had been reported stolen. (It had; deputies, taking a look outside, read Salas her Miranda rights.)
The passing parade
1, Belgium’s federal parliament decided to keep supplying free beer and wine during legislative sessions (over the objection of its ethics committee) because, since drinkers would continue to drink off-premises, anyway, serving the items on-premises would at least improve attendance.
2. On Jan. 30, as police, with a search warrant, approached the front door of child-porn-possessing suspect Brian Ayers, 57, they spotted him inside, hatchet in hand, pounding away at his tablet computer. Ayers, of Florence, NJ., was free at the time, pending sentencing in another New Jersey court on earlier counts of distributing child porn.
A News of the Weird classic (April 2013)
Those Clever Toddlers of Finland: A University of Kansas professor and two co-authors, in Journal of Finance research, found that children age 10 and under substantially outperformed their parents in earnings from certain stock trading. A likely explanation, researchers said, is that Mom and Dad were buying and selling in their children’s accounts if they had illegal insider information — because they feared getting caught by regulators if they used it for their personal accounts. The kids’ accounts (including those held by babies) were almost 50 percent more profitable than their parents’. (The study, reported by NPR, covered 15 years of trades in Finland, which, unlike the U.S. and most other countries, collects traders’ ages.)
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