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The Odd Truth, Aug. 14, 2002

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.

Evil Spirits Get Bum's Rush

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A Town Council known for nasty squabbling called in a shaman to rid its meeting hall of bad vibes.

Christopher Beaver conducted a "smudging ceremony" in the Telluride Town Council chambers earlier this summer after he declared the basement room full of negative — even violent — energy.

Members of the council say they've been in agreement more lately, but they're reluctant to attribute that to the ceremony, which included burning imported menthol. But they say it opened their minds.

"I'm not saying there is a connection," said Mayor John Steel, a 67-year-old, cowboy-hat-wearing attorney. "What it really did maybe was to focus people's minds on trying to seek higher ground."

Telluride's leaders have other unusual practices. They open meetings with a poetry reading and a moment of silence.

Steel said the open-minded Town Council may be open to whatever else might bring harmony, with meetings regularly stretching nine or 10 hours.

"We haven't gone to a sweat lodge yet," he said. "Maybe that will be the next step." (AP)

Elvis Is Toast

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A New Zealand supermarket owner has spent two months fashioning his own unique toast to mark the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death.

Maurice Bennett has constructed a portrait measuring 62 square feet of the King of Rock 'n' Roll out of more than 4,000 small slices of toast.

Bennett, whose previous toast portraits include Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and New Zealand rugby star Jonah Lomu, says Elvis has a special place in his heart.

"I'm totally into Elvis," he said.

Using a commercial oven capable of cooking up to 90 slices of toast at once, Bennett grilled the bread to six different shades ranging from burned for Elvis' hair to lightly warmed for his skin.

Elvis died of a drug-induced heart attack on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42 and tributes are planned this week around the world. (Reuters)

Low-Speed Police Chase Ends Predictably

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — It wasn't your typical stolen vehicle — and it definitely wasn't a textbook police pursuit.

An officer on his way to work at 6:30 a.m. Monday was startled to see a 30-year-old man cruising down the shoulder of the street on a child's Fisher Price Power Wheels car.

The 180-pound rider was about 10 times the recommended age for the battery-operated car, which nonetheless held up under his weight, plugging along at 3 mph, police said.

Police eventually stopped the man after perhaps the slowest chase on record.

The officer sounded his car horn and showed his badge to the driver, who ignored him. So the officer got out on foot and walked up to the culprit.

Police said the driver smelled of alcohol and stumbled as he tried to get up. He told police he was going to his uncle's home, but didn't say why he was using a toy to get there.

The officer took the man to police headquarters and released him after he sobered up, police said. A woman who called police to report that her son's toy car had been stolen opted not to press charges, but police charged the man with public drunkenness. (AP)

Spare Tire Foils Bank Robbery

ROME - A chubby thief was caught by Italian police because he could not squeeze through a hole drilled in the wall of a bank he was about to break into, Italian media reported.

A criminal gang, of which 54-year-old Giovanni Sollami was the largest member, had drilled the hole in the wall of the bank in the northwestern port city of Genoa.

But once his two accomplices had slipped through, Sollami found the hole was too narrow for him.

So he then walked around to the front door of the bank where closed-circuit security cameras picked him up, making the rest easy for police. (Reuters)

Woman Convinces Bureaucrats She's Alive

BERLIN - A retired cleaning lady has managed to convince German bureaucrats she is alive - two months after an office blunder listed her as dead on nationwide computer records.

Vjekoslava Smajic, a Croatian who has lived in Germany for 33 years, had to get a medical certificate confirming she was alive before anyone would believe her after her health insurance, pension and bank account were canceled.

"At first it was all rather amusing but there came a point when it wasn't at all funny," Smajic, 64, told Reuters. "It's nice to be alive again."

It turned out another woman named Smajic had died in May and the pension payment agency had incorrectly booked Vjekoslava Smajic as dead. All her accounts were reopened. (Reuters)

She Doesn't Look A Day Over 110

San Diego - You're only as old as you feel - and America's oldest woman is feeling a little bit younger. Adelina Domingues thought she was 115 years old. But researchers with the Guinness Book of Records say the San Diego area woman was born in February 1888. That makes her 114. A search of documents in her native Cape Verde Islands showed Domingues was born a year later than she believed. Domingues' relatives say she isn't bothered to learn she's not as old as she thought. The family will just celebrate her 115th birthday again next year. (AP)