The Odd Truth, Aug. 16, 2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Stop Or I'll Spray!

MEDFORD, Oregon - You can do almost anything with a can of WD-40 -- including using it as a weapon. At least according to police in Medford, Oregon. Michael Provencio is charged with attacking a man with the handyman's best friend -- and robbing his victim. According to investigators, Provencio entered an apartment through an unlocked screen door, threatened the resident with scissors and sprayed him with WD-40. Provencio has pleaded innocent. He's being held on $500,000 bond.

Fishing For Trouble

MILWAUKIE, Oregon - The fish were biting for 14-year-old Jason McGinnis -- for real. The young fisherman caught a red belly piranha in a creek in a Portland, Oregon, suburb. The flesh-eating fish bit Jason on his finger as he pulled it out of the water. But he's not getting even by having it for dinner. Jason has decided put the fish in his bathtub and plans to sell it to a pet shop. The experts figure the piranha was probably in a fish tank, before someone set it free in the creek.

Art Mistaken For Bomb Threat

WASHINGTON - A Michigan couple is off the hook for a bit of performance art at the nation's Capitol. Reena Patel and Olabayo Olaniyi were busted in March for allegedly making a bomb threat. U.S. Capitol Police spotted them chanting and singing inside the building. They had glass jars duct-taped to their bodies. But the costumes turned out to be harmless. The couple insisted that wrapping themselves was part of their art. Prosecutors have decided not to press charges. Officials say the artists provided documents showing they've done similar performances across the country.

'Sausagegate' Showdown

PITTSBURGH - Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire.

The Milwaukee Brewers' racing sausages confront their biggest enemy this side of Jimmy Dean once again tomorrow. The sausages are still hot under the casings after being whacked by the Pirates' bat-wielding Randall Simon at Miller Park last month.

This time, rather than the sausages versus Simon, it'll be the sausages versus the Pirates' racing pierogies in a match race in Pittsburgh during the Brewers-Pirates game. The winner will be awarded the cherished Golden Skillet for mascot-racing excellence.

Whatever happens, don't expect the sausages to get Simonized this time.

Simon was embarrassed, and puzzled, by all the grief caused by what he intended as a playful tap against one of the sausage characters at Miller Park -- a hit that turned into the Whack Heard 'Round the World.

The whacked mascot -- 19-year-old Mandy Block -- was more amused than abused by the whole thing. She won't be racing tomorrow in Pittsburgh. The Brewers have assigned Block to less public duties since Sausagegate.

Lulu's Wedgie

NEW YORK - Of the hundreds of New Yorkers trapped in elevators by the power outage, Laura "Lulu" Evans was surely among the youngest and the loneliest.

But after being trapped by herself for three hours Thursday in her Manhattan apartment building elevator, the 11-year-old was rescued by firefighters. And all it cost her was a wedgie.

Firefighters from Engine Co. 22, on the Upper East Side, used long axes and 3-foot rip bars to pop off the elevator doors, leaving 3 feet of space to pull Lulu up and out.

"I jumped, and the firefighter said, 'I'm gonna give you a wedgie,' and he pulled me up by the back of my shorts," she said.

When Lulu emerged, she burst into tears and hugged her mother, who had come home from work just minutes after her daughter's ordeal began.

"I went hysterical," Wendy Evans said before the firefighters arrived. "I knew those guys would just whack the door down."

Lulu kept her composure as about a dozen neighbors talked to her through the metal double doors or rushed to the firehouse for help.

"People I didn't know were being so nice to me," she said. "They were telling me to tap on the doors so they could tell where the elevator was."

Earlier, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said police and firefighters had searched all the city's major high-rise buildings and believed no one was trapped in high-rise elevators.

When Lulu's elevator stopped and went dark, the car was just 5 feet below her 10th-floor hallway.

'Flash Mob' Not So Flashy

BOULDER, Colo. - About two dozen people gathered in downtown Boulder to point at the sky and yell "It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"

But what participants in Colorado's latest "flash mob" were actually looking at was a TV news helicopter.

Reporters nearly outnumbered those assembled in front of the Boulder County Courthouse for the event and participants said that ruined what was supposed to be a spontaneous and wacky stunt.

"Flash mob" crowds are organized by e-mail lists and Web sites and converge in a prearranged location to perform harmless gags, puzzling onlookers and then quickly dispersing.

"This is supposed to seem like a spontaneous-seeming event, so if you have the media down here it doesn't work," said participant Christopher Downs, 22. "It's not really an underground thing when it's published in a media outlet."

Flash mobs have shown up recently in New York, San Francisco and London. Hundreds of people joined Denver's first mob on Monday, in which participants pretended to play ping pong at a downtown mall.

'Flash Mob' Hits Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil - In a bizarre stunt, a crowd of about 100 people converged on a busy street corner, each removed one shoe and beat it on the pavement several times, before putting their shoes back on and leaving the scene.

The so-called flash mob phenomenon, in which crowds organized by e-mail lists and Web sites perform harmless stunts for a few minutes in prearranged public location before abruptly disappearing, apparently took place in Brazil for the first time. Similar acts have recently occurred in cities such as New York, Tokyo and Vienna.

According to the Estado news agency, the crowd converged on the corners of Paulista and Augusta avenues - one of the city's most crowded crossings.

At 12:40 p.m. local time, members of the crowd ran into the street, removed one shoe, beat it on the pavement several times, and then dispersed peacefully.

It was unclear who organized the stunt.

Skeleton In Her Closet

NARBONNE, France - A French woman is suspected of keeping her elderly mother's skeleton hidden at home for more than three years while she continued to collect her pension checks, police said Wednesday.

Police burst into an apartment in Narbonne, southern France, on Monday and discovered the skeleton on a bed in a room that had been sealed off to prevent odors from escaping.

The woman was in her early 90s when she is believed to have died, in February 2000. Health officials grew concerned about her when they realized she was not filling her prescription medication. They alerted authorities, who opened a missing persons investigation.

The woman's 62-year-old daughter was in police custody after returning home from vacation Tuesday to turn herself in. She told police that her mother died while under hypnosis, authorities said.

For more than three years, the daughter continued to pick up her mother's pension checks and cash them, authorities said.

Police did not reveal the mother and daughter's identities.

Drunk Firebreather Catches Fire

CHARLOTTE - Play with fire and you are apt to get burned.

A North Carolina man who's a self-described fire-breather is hospitalized with burns to his face and throat. He's in serious condition.

Police say Walter McKinney had been drinking with neighbors and was showing them pictures of his fire-breathing act. He decided to do a demonstration and poured lighter fluid into his mouth.

He then reportedly put a burning stick up to his face - and his face caught fire.

One neighbor says he helped extinguish the fire with some beer - saying it was the only thing close at hand.

Police are considering charges against McKinney and will decide once he's out of the hospital.

All In The Name Of Charity

KETCHUM, Idaho - "Sun Valley Exposed" will be just that. The Ketchum, Idaho, Sun Valley Historical Society is publishing a benefit calendar with some citizens exposing all. Calendar organizer Millie Wiggins says firefighters, real estate agents, chefs, and bikers have all expressed interest in dropping their drawers for charity. The 2005 calendar will be published next March. Wiggins says they'll be auditioning models over the summer.

Murderous Dictator To Be Honored On 'Walk Of Fame'

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Jakarta's governor is planning to add former dictator Suharto's footprints to a Hollywood-inspired "Walk of Fame" in front of the presidential palace, a report said Thursday.

Governor Sutiyoso, who like many Indonesians has only one name, will add the former strongman's footprints to the planned promenade alongside those of other former presidents and military generals, the Jakarta Post Daily reported.

Suharto - a five-star general - ruled Indonesia with an iron hand for 32 years before he was ousted in 1998 amid pro-democracy protests and riots. Hundreds of thousands of his political opponents were killed or exiled to penal colonies during his rule.

Following his ouster, Suharto was accused of embezzling $600 million through a complex web of tax-free charitable foundations under his control. But a Jakarta court ruled that the ailing 82-year old autocrat was too feeble to stand trial.

Sutiyoso, himself a former general, was appointed governor of the Indonesian capital by Suharto in the final year of his rule.

The new walk will inspire young people to be more patriotic and "follow in the footsteps" of Indonesia's leaders, city parks director Mauritz Napitupulu said.

Your Own Little Piece Of Mars

LINCOLN, Neb. - If you have ever wanted a souvenir from Mars without the hassles of traveling there, here's your chance.

A Lincoln company is auctioning off part of the famous Mars meteorite Zagami, which fell to Earth Oct. 3, 1962, in central Nigeria.

Bids for the fragment, which weighs about 6.6 ounces and is about the size of a soda can, begin at $450,000 when the online auction starts Sept. 5 on the Internet site eBay.

It is the largest known fragment from the meteorite, said Sell2All, the Lincoln company coordinating the auction for a private individual.

The meteorite, which the company said was authenticated two years ago, was displayed for several years at Nigeria's Kaduna Museum.

One side of it is cut to display the natural layers.

The other side was left natural, and shows the effects of the burning and melting it experienced as it flew through Earth's atmosphere.

Beginner's Luck For Lotto Winner

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Beginner's luck struck for a Miami man from Haiti, who says his half of a $80.9 million Lotto jackpot came the first time he ever played the Florida Lottery.

Jacquelin Ferdinand, 55, claimed his price Monday, choosing a lump sum of $21,601,782.48 over 30 annual payments of about $1,349,000 a year.

"This was the first time I ever played Lotto, and the numbers I chose were at random," Ferdinand said at Florida Lottery headquarters.

Ferdinand said he didn't check his numbers until two weeks after the July 26 drawing. He went to the suburban Miami gas station, where he bought the tickets to jot down the winning numbers.

"I then drove down I-95 checking my numbers when I realized I had all six numbers," Ferdinand said. "I had to pull over because I was stunned, and had to wait 15 minutes before heading off."

Ferdinand said he will meet with his family to decide what to do with his winnings. He said he plans to keep working, but told Lottery officials that he didn't want to disclose his occupation to help protect his privacy.

It was the 10th largest jackpot in Lotto history.

'Miracle Dog' Finds New Life Mission

ST. LOUIS - Now that his own life has been saved, Quentin the "miracle dog" will be trying to save the lives of other pets.

The 30-pound basenji was supposed to be euthanized at a St. Louis shelter. But somehow, he survived the gas chamber. And the founder of a St. Louis group that tries to rescue stray dogs says he figures Quentin was meant to serve some greater good.

So Randy Grim is joining with an animal advocacy group in California - to make Quentin the star of a campaign aimed at raising awareness about the millions of dogs killed each year because they don't have homes.

After the story of Quentin's survival was told, about 700 people expressed an interest in adopting him. Grim says he couldn't pick one person from the 700 - so he ended up taking Quentin home himself.

The founder of the California group, called In Defense of Animals, says the first goal will be to eliminate the gas chamber as the primary way of euthanizing stray dogs in St. Louis.

Robbing Like A Man Half His Age

ABILENE, Texas - Authorities say convicted bank robber J.L. Hunter "Red" Rountree isn't letting old age stand in his way.

The 91-year-old Texas man is back behind bars, accused of robbing his third bank in five years.

Police say Rountree walked into a branch of First American Bank in Abilene about 10 a.m. Tuesday, demanded money from a teller and passed over a large envelope with "ROBBERY" written on it.

He left in a car parked near the bank, but a witness got the license plate, which police tracked to an address in Goldthwaite, 110 miles southeast of Abilene. About a half-hour later, Rountree was pulled over by officers 16 miles south of Abilene on U.S. 84 on his way home.

Rountree was jailed on a charge of bank robbery. Bail was set at $150,000.

On Dec. 9, 1998, one week before his 87th birthday, Rountree was arrested in Biloxi, Miss., minutes after he robbed a bank. He was eventually given three years probation, fined $260 and told to leave Mississippi.

In October 1999, he was arrested outside a NationsBank in Pensacola, Fla., after giving a teller a note that said "ROBBERY" written in red ink and telling her, "Give me the $100s." He was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to three years in prison, becoming the oldest inmate in the Florida prison system.

Abilene Police Sgt. Mike Perry said about $2,000 was taken in Tuesday's robbery.

Cream Party Candidate

SAN FRANCISCO - Depending on your point of view, Ralph Nader got either his just or unjust desserts.

The Green Party presidential candidate ended up with pie on his face as he was endorsing fellow party member Peter Camejo for California governor.

Appearing at the Green Party's San Francisco headquarters, Nader said California voters should take advantage of the unprecedented gubernatorial recall. He said Camejo understands the state's fiscal crisis better than other candidates.

The show of political support took an unscripted turn when a prankster burst into the room and slammed a cream pie in Nader's face. The culprit fled through a side door.

Camejo later suggested the pie assault was the work of Democrats who may feel threatened by the Green Party's growing popularity.

Some Democrats blame Nader for helping put President Bush in the White House by siphoning off votes from Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election.

Malaysia Bans Washing, Cooking, In Public Toilets

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Officials in a southern Malaysian state will soon enforce a new law that forbids people to wash clothes, cook or light a fire in public toilets, a news report said Wednesday.

The law will allow fines of up to $263 for anyone deemed to have abused restroom facilities, said Low Boon Hong, a government official in Johor state, 300 miles south of Kuala Lumpur.

Offenses under the law include failing to flush, vandalism, spitting and littering — as well as more irregular behavior in toilets such as bathing, cooking, washing clothes and lighting fires, Low was quoted as saying by the Bernama national news agency.

Follow That Bar Stool!

RENO, Nev. - Police pulled over a man on a bar stool - after a slow speed pursuit on one of Reno's busier streets.

It started Monday when an officer saw a man riding the motorized bar stool at 35 mph. He was being followed closely by a woman in a Mustang.

Both driver and rider were pulled over.

The woman told police she had been on the phone with a dispatcher reporting the bar stool stolen.

The owner of the bar stool confirmed that the stool, powered by a small engine, had been taken three weeks earlier.

Jarrett Orcutt, 22, said he had bought it a little over a week ago, thinking it was a toy and added that he had driven it between Reno and nearby Sparks several times. Police estimate its value at more than $1,000.

Orcutt faces Reno charges of possession of stolen property, possession of drug paraphernalia and numerous traffic violations.

Sparks police are handling the stolen vehicle report.

Japanese Cop Nabbed In Up-Skirt Photo Caper

TOKYO - A policeman in western Japan is facing disciplinary measures after he was caught photographing up a young woman's skirt with a hidden camera while on duty, an official said Wednesday.

The 42-year-old police sergeant, whose name was not released, used a digital camera to surreptitiously snap the shots when the woman was reporting a stolen bicycle at his station in the western city of Takarazuka.

The woman became suspicious after she saw a flash go off. She later reported the incident to state police, a spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

The sergeant has admitted to the accusations and is expected to face disciplinary action, the spokesman said, without elaborating.

The camera was not police property, he added.

Newspapers reported that police will ask prosecutors to charge the sergeant with violating public nuisance laws, but the spokesman said the punishment was still under consideration.

Man Takes Off Pants At Airport; Motive Still Unclear

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A Florida man says airport screeners humiliated him by asking that he drop his pants at an airport checkpoint.

Martin Holness says when coins in his trousers set off a metal detector, a guard asked him to run the pants through an X-ray machine.

But the Transportation Security Administration gives a different account of the July incident at Fort Lauderdale's airport.

TSA spokeswoman Lauren Stover says the passenger was frustrated, and took the pants off by himself, insisting that they be X-rayed. She says Holness caused a scene and says the screener did nothing wrong.

Stover says passengers who feel the need for privacy can ask to be screened in a private area, adding that officials need the public's cooperation to make the security system work.

NASCAR Email Nut Pleads Guilty

BOSTON - A fit of anger is costing a NASCAR fan plenty. Michael Melo has pleaded guilty to flooding Fox Entertainment with angry e-mails, after a Boston Red Sox game pre-empted an auto race. He has already paid $36,000 in restitution and has to fork-over another $2,000 in fines. Melo admitted that he wrote a computer program that blitzed Fox with more than a-half million e-mail messages. Melo has also been sentenced to six months of home detention for his May 2001 stunt.

Another Candidate For Father Of The Year!

TAMPA - A Florida dad is in jail, after he allegedly left his kids in a truck while he visited a strip club. Police in Tampa say Olvin Pabon paid a $20 cover at the Deja Vu bar, and spent about 20 minutes inside. A security guard outside heard crying and found the four children in the truck. Security officers and several patrons blocked Pabon's truck until police arrived. He's charged with four counts of child neglect. Pabon claims he just stopped to use the strip club's restroom and only left the children for about ten minutes. The kids - ranging in age from one to eight - are now staying with Pabon's sister-in-law.

Rags To Riches

CARSON, Calif. - Patricia Frierson is leaving her motel room behind in favor of a beach house after winning the $91 million California Lottery jackpot.

"No more motels," she told reporters Monday. "A house by the ocean, that's what I'm dreaming of."

The 55-year-old factory worker had the sole winning ticket for Saturday night's SuperLotto Plus game. The jackpot had grown to $91 million after several drawings failed to draw a grand prize winner.

Frierson chose to receive her money in annual pretax payments rather than a lump sum, so she'll receive about $2.3 million a year for the next 26 years.

She bought her winning ticket Saturday afternoon at a liquor store down the block from an Econolodge motel she had moved to three years ago when she could no longer afford her town home.

After Saturday night's drawing she took an "emergency leave" from her job and moved to a secret location to avoid people looking for handouts. She said she has also received a marriage proposal.

Aside from buying a home with an ocean view in Long Beach, Frierson plans on using her winnings to purchase a Corvette and travel to Hawaii and Jamaica.

When she won she was in the process of buying a home, and she said she'll give that one to her daughter.

Square Dance King

NORFOLK, Neb. - A lot of do-si-dos have passed since Dale Muehlmeier thought he had set a world record.

Muehlmeier was finally informed last weekend by Guinness World Records Ltd. of London that he set a world record for square dance calling - more than three years ago.

Muehlmeier called a square dance for 28 hours for an American Cancer Society benefit in a discount store's parking lot from May 26 to May 27, 2000.

"Please accept our apologies for the delay in sending out this certificate to you," Guinness' Louise Whetter said in a letter dated July 31 to Muehlmeier. No explanation for the three-year delay was given.

While the paperwork confirmed his world record, it does not guarantee automatic entry into the next published edition - a decision is left to the book's managing editors, Muehlmeier said.

Muehlmeier wasn't fazed by either the delay or the long night calling, except for being a little hoarse.

That, however, wasn't enough to stop him from square dancing for more than two hours after setting the record.

Luck Of The Draw

NEW BRITAIN, Connecticut - A freak mishap is a lucky break for lots of Connecticut Lottery players. Last Friday, two balls got stuck in the number chute and didn't make it into the mixing chamber with the rest of the number balls. Now, lottery officials say they'll pay Cash Five players with any combination of the winning numbers - plus the stuck ball numbers. The winning combination was 1-2-9-24-33 - and the stuck balls were numbers 18 and 27. The payout could be more than $400,000 with nearly 6,000 winning tickets. The usual Cash Five payout is around a $140,000. Lottery officials say they're investigating the sticky situation.

Powell Announces State Department Softball Victory

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin Powell proudly announced Monday that the State Department had won the U.S. government interagency softball tournament to become league champions for 2003.

"We're No. 1 in the Bush-Cheney softball league," a beaming Powell told reporters outside the department after seeing off a U.N. visitor.

In taking the title, State did not have to face its inside-the-Beltway rival, the Defense Department.

"I have a note here," deputy spokesman Philip T. Reeker said at his briefing after announcing the result of the tournament and displaying a trophy. "If asked. The Defense Department did not make the playoffs. Sorry guys."

Reeker said State was seeded eighth in a field of 11 teams and won four games Saturday, triumphing over the Commerce, Justice and Labor Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency, 14-1, to take the title.

Jamaica Fines Rapper For Foul Language

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica - Rapper Sean Paul pleaded guilty to using profanity during Montego Bay's Reggae Sumfest last month and paid a Jamaican $2,000 ($40) fine.

Defense attorney Tom Taveres-Finson told Judge Valrie Stephens Monday that Paul was sorry, but the judge demanded an apology from the rapper.

"I apologize to the Montego Bay people," Paul told Judge Valrie Stephens. "I promise that this won't happen again, so I do not have to come again to waste the court's time."

The court date was set for Sept. 1, but Taveres-Finson said Paul requested an earlier date to put the incident behind him.

"He broke his tour to come to court today because he wanted to get the matter over with," he said.

The rapper, whose real name is Sean Paul Henriques and who is riding the Billboard charts, paid the fine shortly after exiting the courtroom, then signed autographs for fans waiting outside before being whisked away in a van.

His July performance was laced with expletives, which are illegal in public in Jamaica, police said.

'Operation Green Lantern' Nabs Comic Thieves

MARGATE, Fla. - "Operation Green Lantern" has helped police nab two armed robbers who allegedly stole about $4,000 worth of vintage comic books from a Lauderhill shop.

Police said Monday they arrested Jason Gilbert Rodriguez, 27, of Pompano Beach and Rafael Gonzalez, 26, of North Lauderdale, for stealing comic books that included copies of Spider-Man and Silver Surfer. Authorities said the men - disguised as a pair of bug exterminators - offered to spray the comic book shop and then tied up an employee on July 25.

Curtis Suthard, manager of Past Present & Future Comics, said the books were from comics' "Silver Age," an era from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Suthard was not at the store during the robbery.

The duo were foiled after they allegedly tried to sell the books at a comic shop in Margate a few days later, Lauderhill police Sgt. Tundra M. King said.

The owner of Phil's Comic Shoppe recognized the books and asked the men to leave a number in case any customers wanted to buy the books. They gave him a phone number and the owner also jotted down the tag number of the men's car.

Police said an undercover Broward sheriff's deputy met with the men Saturday at a Denny's restaurant in Margate, where they tried to sell the books and were later arrested.

King said she wasn't sure who decided to name the police operation after Green Lantern, who wears a lantern-shaped ring and whose oath includes the words "no evil shall escape my sight."

"That's a cool name," Suthard said. "I guess it's better than 'Operation Spider-Man."'

Cockroaches Muddle Domino-Laying Record

SINGAPORE - Cockroaches are just a creepy-crawly nuisance to many but for Ma Lihua, dominologist, they are the enemy.

The 24-year-old domino-laying expert from Beijing blames the bugs for tumbling some of the tiles she painstakingly set up over the past six weeks in preparation for the world's longest solo domino topple next week, an event organizer said Tuesday.

"There have been ongoing problems with cockroaches getting on the floor ... they can wreak havoc with 350,000 dominoes," said Brian Kim, Singapore manager of LG Electronics, the Korean company sponsoring the event.

Ma said one bug managed to knock down 10,000 tiles - a day's work.

"I am quite nervous about it happening again," she said "It's been giving me nightmares."

Organizers have spread pungent leaves from a local tree - thought to repel the insects - around Singapore Expo hall where Ma is staging the record attempt. Plastic barriers have been set up within the arrangement to minimize the damage if dominos start to fall, Kim said.

In addition, rat traps ring the expo hall, but they are "just a precaution," he said.

Ma has been putting in 13-hour days to meet her deadline and only takes short breaks for meals and the occasional badminton game to help relieve stress, Kim said.

She hopes to topple 350,000 tiles on Monday, he said.

Kim said the record Ma is attempting to break was set by German Klaus Friedrich, who single-handledly set up and toppled 281,581 dominoes in 1984.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records web site, the most dominoes ever toppled in one go by a group was 3,847,295.

Civil War Games

GETTYSBURG, Pennsylvania - It's a far cry from Civil War hardtack and camp coffee. An estimated 11,000 volunteers re-enacted the Battle of Gettysburg over the weekend on Pennsylvania farmland. While the amateur soldiers may have looked like their counterparts of 140 years ago, they didn't eat like them. One well-fed Confederate officer washed down his cheeseburger with a plastic cup of lemonade. A Union private kept in touch thanks to his cell phone. And Abe Lincoln posed with Girl Scouts for some snapshots. An estimated 60,000 spectators watched the replay of one of the critical battles of the Civil War. Some in the crowd even did the wave.

Thailand Auctions Lucky License Numbers

BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand's first ever auction of uncommon and lucky car license plates drew about 1,000 bidders Monday with the country's communications minister making the highest bid of 4 million baht ($95,200).

Communications Minister Suriya Jungrungraungkit said his newly acquired license plate 9999 was "a good investment."

"Who knows, I may sell this 9999 number to another person for 4.5 million baht ($107,000) one day. This is better than investing in the stock market," Suriya told the bidders at the auction, broadcast live on national television from a five-star hotel.

The number nine is considered lucky and auspicious by Thais because of its association with the country's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose royal title is King Rama IX.

The Land Transport Department, which is overseen by Suriya's ministry, organized the auction to address complaints that corrupt officials are secretly selling lucky numbers or allocating them to well connected people.

Unlike the vanity plates in the United States, which are mostly a mark of individualism, lucky number plates in Thailand are associated with the rich and the famous, and a source of envy for many.

The Land Transport Department set aside 301 numbers for the auction with 42 most sought-after numbers disposed of Monday. The remaining, less eye-catching numbers, will be auctioned on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The money will be use to set up a fund for victims of roads accidents, he said.
  • Brian Bernbaum

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