2003: Looking Back on the (Strange) Year That Was...
(Father Time Jones)
As 2003 comes to a close, everyone is talking about the big news stories of the year (Saddam Hussein and Iraq, The Great Black Out, The Dow is up over 10000 again, etc)... But there have been many other "memorable" things that have happened this year... So lets take a look at some of the other things that have made 2003 so interesting... If pictures are generally worth a thousand words, then these News Photos should be worth at least 1200... And if you really want strange but true stores, check out these from here in Florida:
2003 Florida Weird News In Review
There was the defendant who mooned a jury and the bank robber who used an Easter egg defense when he was caught red-handed. There were nude park rangers and a sex-crazed emu -- thankfully not in the same place at the same time.
-- DUMB CRIMINALS --
A man took out his wallet and asked for change at a Palm Beach County gas station and then pulled out a gun. He fled with $200 in cash, but left his wallet behind. Police used it to find him.
In Stuart, two men ran out of a store without paying for beer and a hot dog, but one left his ID and a gun behind. They later called the store and asked if they could come back and get the items. Police were waiting when they arrived.
A Miami man robbed two banks then fled on foot. He was caught when he sat down to rest. He told police he robbed the banks because "I'm too ugly to get a job."
A Brevard County bank robber didn't check the tires on a getaway car -- but a witness did and saw one was flat. Officers began checking tire shops and found the suspect. And in another less than speedy getaway, Jacksonville police found a bank robber fleeing on a city bus.
In Naples, police were searching for two burglary suspects when two men dressed in black jumped into what they apparently thought was a getaway car. They bolted when the driver shouted, 'Sheriff's Office! Freeze!" The deputy in the unmarked car caught one of the suspects.
Then there was the Manatee County prisoner who tried to get out of jail the same way he got in -- stealing a vehicle. The car thief jumped into one of the jail's SUVs and drove past security. He was caught 45 minutes later.
That wasn't as creative as an escape attempt in Charlotte County. A prisoner used toothpaste to paint his black shoes white, drew a Nike symbol on a plain T-shirt and sewed pants out of a blanket using the spring from a pen as a needle. The idea was to look like a civilian and walk out of the jail. It didn't work.
Another prisoner did his time and then was arrested on a return visit to the Seminole County jail. The man wanted to retrieve some clothing, shampoo and other personal items. But it turned out he arrived at the jail in a stolen car. His items were returned to storage and he returned to jail.
A man accused of robbing a Boca Raton bank told police the red ink covering his hands didn't come from exploding dye packs, but from coloring Easter eggs. The man robbed the same bank twice during the week before Easter, the second time with a note that said "No dye pack this time. I will shoot you!"
And a police officer in Miami-Dade County got in trouble when he offered to clear up some traffic problems in exchange for nude dances. The free dances ended up costing him more than $35,000 when he agreed to pay the department back to investigate the case.
Two state park rangers were punished for drinking beer and skinny-dipping during a state-paid training event near Apopka for a program to beautify Florida's parks. Visitors still trying to find the Winter Haven police Web site at its old address were instead taken to a site operated by a Russian pornographer. And a travel company chartered a plane from Miami to Cancun that was billed as the world's first nude flight.
-- I'M INSANE! --
In Panama City, a man who pleaded insanity to armed burglary and aggravated battery wrapped up his defense by loudly hooting "cuckoo-cuckoo" and mooning the jury. He was serving as his own lawyer.
Not that insanity defenses can't work. Criminal charges were dropped against a Callaway man accused of smashing his way into a neighbor's house and chasing a woman with a knife. A Panama City judge was convinced the man was temporarily insane from drinking jasmine tea.
A Broward County man convinced a judge he was insane without even trying. He asked for an early release from his probation because he enjoys eating poppy seed bagels but worries it will show up on his drug test. The judge asked if he was crazy and then told him to leave the courtroom.
A woman accused in a knife attack claimed the incident was a mistake. The North Port nurse said she was trying to wake up her 19-year-old son by throwing objects off his dresser. That included a coin bank, CDs and an 18-inch "samurai-type" knife that struck him in the buttocks.
-- UNCANNY ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS --
Animals contributed to the weird news. A Live Oak man picked up a plant at a Wal-Mart and a moccasin hiding in the pot bit him. He spent two weeks in the hospital. The snake was stomped to death.
The owner of a 300-pound Emu that escaped its pen near DeFuniak Springs had a warning for anyone who might come across the flightless bird: "I don't want to be held liable if that sex-crazed thing does something to somebody."
And a raccoon dashed off with a Palm Harbor's golfer's tote bag containing snacks and a $1,200 wedding ring. A groundskeeper said he recovered the ring in a swamp after he asked himself, "What would a raccoon do?"
-- SIMPLY STRANGE --
Among random strangeness, a 40-year-old man was caught impersonating 29-year-old Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti in a scam that earned him free drinks and hotel rooms on Clearwater Beach. He was arrested as he signed autographs for fans and told police, "You have to admit I do look like the guy from Creed."
Former Republican Gov. Claude Kirk demanded that Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt pay him $1.60 after receiving an unwanted fax inviting him to attend a fund-raising reception for $2,000. The payment was to cover calls Kirk made to get off the fax list.
Homeless advocates were outraged in Kissimmee when police officers dressed as vagrants to catch people running red lights. The officers pushed shopping carts, wore fake teeth and shabby clothes and carried small cardboard signs that said "Sheriff's traffic sting in progress." Despite the warning, they nabbed 171 drivers.
A first grade teacher in Miramar upset parents and students after she told the class that Santa Claus doesn't exist and explained the improbability of flying reindeer and a fat man visiting all the world's houses in one night.
-- GATORS, SHARKS AND ELECTION SCANDAL, OH MY! --
In an election victory that perhaps could have only taken place in Miami-Dade, a Hialeah Gardens city councilman was re-elected after being charged with trying to bribe his opponent to drop out of the race.
The strangest shark attack of the year happened in Tampa, where a woman was bitten by a two-foot shark at the Florida Aquarium. Not that the woman was doing anything wrong. The aquarium has a petting tank filled with sharks and stingrays.
A Port Charlotte woman hit an alligator in her Honda Accord and tried to save it. But she crashed her car when the 6-foot reptile began to thrash around in the back seat. She was charged with possession of an alligator, a felony in Florida.