It may have been a weird and wacky year … but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else

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Tigger, one-eyed gator, cat urine top another weird year for news in Florida

Saturday, December 22, 2007

TALLAHASSEE, Florida: Florida well-known for its theme parks and beaches, has another — more dubious — distinction, a tendency toward bizarre news and 2007 was no exception.

There was the battle over former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith’s body, the city manager who was fired after he became a she, the university student who shouted “Don’t Tase me, bro!” as officers jolted him with a Taser and the astronaut love triangle involving the woman who drove 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers), allegedly using diapers to save time, to confront a romantic rival.

But beyond those headline makers, there was more. So much more.

At Walt Disney World in Orlando, the cartoon character Tigger (which had beat a groping charge a few years ago) was accused of hitting a 14-year-old boy at the theme park, but was let off despite the fact the father had it on videotape.

Two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. made matters worse for himself after he was caught urinating on a car. Asked by a police officer if the relief was worth a $100 (€70) fine, he held out a $100 bill only to be charged with disorderly intoxication.

As always there were plenty of strange stories fueled by alcohol.

Proving that drinking and driving still do not mix: a 30-year-old woman taking driving lessons ran over her instructor, who had to be airlifted to a hospital. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit.

Then there was the mug shot of a 41-year-old woman arrested in Tampa on driving while intoxicated charges whose T-shirt read, “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings.”

In the town of Largo, in an alcohol induced oddity, police were left scratching their heads after being called to a bar disturbance only to have one intoxicated man call for help saying he was surrounded by police.

Speaking of head scratchers, a substitute teacher got in trouble in the Orlando area for bringing a handgun on school property after someone reported he was using the gun to scratch his head while pulling into the parking lot.

In other school weapons crime, a 10-year-old girl faced a felony charge in Ocala after she brought a kitchen knife to school to cut the steak she brought for lunch.

Two Tampa-area middle-schoolers were arrested on charges they tried to poison their science teacher by pouring a fabric freshener into her soda.

And there was trouble on the way to school, too. A Tampa-area mom was sentenced to a year in jail after boarding a school bus and telling her daughter to fight another girl. In Jacksonville, authorities charged another mom with pulling a gun at a school bus stop because her son was being bullied.

As always there were plenty of dumb crimes to report.

A man with no arms and one leg who refused to stop driving was sentenced in Pasco County to five years in prison after the latest in a long list of driving offenses.

A former felon swapping his old clothes for new ones in a department store dressing room was caught because his old prison ID badge was in the pants he left behind.

A Tampa-area woman was charged with faking her teenage daughter’s death to scam a medical clinic out of $500 (€348) for funeral expenses, proving she did not learn anything during the two years she spent in prison for faking her husband’s death to collect insurance four years earlier.

A man trying to rob a pharmacy got stuck in an air shaft for 10 hours. He said he was trying to retrieve a cat. Authorities did not believe him.

A burglary suspect fleeing Miccosukee Tribe police jumped into a lake where signs warn “Danger Live Alligators.” He was killed by an alligator.

Of course, there are always plenty of strange stories involving alligators in Florida.

A man golfing in Venice reached down to retrieve his errant shot from a pond when a one-eyed alligator reached up and grabbed his arm, pulling him in. He freed himself by punching the gator. In another attack, a man in a wet suit retrieving balls from a golf course lake to resell them was bitten on the foot by a 7-foot (2-meter) gator.

Rounding out animal attacks was a 62-year-old man who saved himself from a rabid bobcat by strangling the animal.

For pet lovers, there was the story of the man who was arrested after authorities found about 300 cats in his home, which was covered in feces 2 and 3 inches (5 and 8 centimeters) deep.

Others were more tragic. The owner of an exotic animal farm in Wewahitchka died after an 1,800-pound (816-kilogram) camel sat on her as a local television station filmed a feature story.

In Hillsborough County, deputies did not believe a woman when she said the vial they found in her purse contained dried cat urine, not methamphetamine. They should have. She sat in jail for two months until a test proved she was telling the truth. Drug charges were dropped.

As for weird police stories.

Orlando-area police gave away sneakers for people who turned in guns and got a little more than they expected when a man exchanged a 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) surface-to-air missile launcher for Reebok sneakers for his young daughter.

There were robbers with a heart. An Altamonte Springs gunman let a convenience store clerk call 911 during a robbery because she said she might be having a heart attack. He then stole $30 (€21) and cigarettes saying as he left, “You have a good day. I’m sorry this had to happen.”

Giving new meaning to the phrase he never knew what hit him, a man in St. Lucie County went to the hospital and told doctors he woke up with a bad headache. He speculated his wife may have elbowed him in his sleep. Doctors quickly found the cause of the pain — a bullet. The couple confessed the wife sleeps with a loaded gun under her pillow and accidentally shot her husband when a burglar alarm went off.

And finally, one man found out that the cost of college graduation can be almost as expensive as getting the diploma. The 24-year-old man celebrated his graduation from Georgia Tech at a Panhandle strip club and ran up an American Express bill totaling $53,000 (€36,857) — more than five semesters of out-of-state tuition at the school. When his dad saw the bill, he called authorities and complained the club took advantage of his son.

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