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The Odd Truth, Dec. 11, 2002

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by'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.

Florida's Balding Black Bears

OCALA NATIONAL FOREST, Fla. — More than half the black bears living in the forest around the north-central Florida community of Lynne are suffering from a type of mange that makes their hair fall out.

It is the only area in the country where biologists say they have seen a relatively large number of bears with the affliction.

"They look like a large, bald rat," said Mark Cunningham, a veterinarian with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "I show pictures to people who don't even recognize they are bears."

Cunningham said the mange is linked to tiny mites that attack the bears' skin.

More than 15 bears — about 60 percent of those in the area — have varying degrees of hair loss. About 90 percent of the females have it, and the illness seems to be handed down to their cubs.

Officials are not doing anything to relieve the bears' condition. The bears do not seem to have health problems besides hair loss, Cunningham said.

Finally, A Smart Criminal

LAPORTE, Ind. — A burglary suspect eluded police in northern Indiana by stealing the squad car of one of the officers pursuing him.

Police later found the car in the garage of a LaPorte County home, but there was no one in the house.

"We're just trying to regroup and find out where this guy went," said Police Chief Walter Brath.

Authorities said a North Liberty police officer was pursuing the man's van Monday following a reported burglary in St. Joseph County when the man bailed out near a church.

When the officer left his car to chase the man on foot, the suspect circled around the church and stole the squad car, authorities said.

The officer had left the keys in the ignition and the engine was running, said North Liberty police Chief Steve Michael.

The man fled into LaPorte County at speeds over 100 mph and again eluded pursuit.

Investigators believe the man then broke into a home in LaPorte and called for a cab, but the dispatcher became suspicious and called police.

Charges Dropped Against Peeing Alderwoman

ST. LOUIS - The case of the peeing alderwoman is now closed. A jury has found St. Louis Alderwoman Irene Smith innocent of misdemeanor lewd conduct. Smith allegedly urinated in a trash can, rather than give up the floor in a council debate in the summer of 2001. Aides draped Smith with a sheet, quilt and tablecloth while she apparently did something in a trash can. Smith had called the charge bogus, saying no one would ever know what she did or didn't do. The jurors agreed.

Apple For The Teacher Takes A New Turn

HOLYOKE, Mass. - The Department of Social Services is looking into a possible case of child abuse after a 4-year-old girl brought her teacher a small bag of marijuana as a gift.

When Head Start Early Childhood Center teacher Iris Galvez asked where she got the gift Monday, the girl said she got it "from her mommy," according to a police report obtained by the Union-News of Springfield.

The girl's mother, Shelin Colon, 32, said she doesn't have any drugs in the house and doesn't know where the girl might have gotten the marijuana, police said.

No charges have been filed.

A report of suspected child abuse or neglect has been filed with Social Services, a department spokesman said.

Suzanne L. Parker, deputy director of the area Head Start program, declined to comment.

Boston University Loses $3 Million Gift

BOSTON - A philanthropist is demanding that Boston University return his $3 million donation to renovate a library.

Grocery entrepreneur David Mugar said he had been told the money was "lost" through poor accounting and could not be identified among university funds. He is considering a lawsuit.

The 2-year-old dispute reached a crucial juncture Tuesday when the university's board of trustees debated Mugar's demand that the money be returned and asked a lawyer to recommend options.

Mugar made his gift in 1993 to expand and renovate the school's Mugar Library, named after his grandparents and funded by his family.

After acknowledging it had mishandled the donation, the university offered to name a new dormitory or theater after Mugar instead. But Mugar said he wants the money returned, along with $1 million to $2 million in interest, so it can be donated to WGBH-TV and Cape Cod Hospital.

"BU has been very apologetic about losing my money, but regardless, I want my money back," Mugar said in Wednesday's editions of The Boston Globe.

Bibles And Brewski

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.- Let there be -- beer! A reverend and a restaurateur hope to mix Bibles and brewskis in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Reverend Peter Winkle and business owner Renee Visser want to open a religious-themed bar called, "Graces." Visser says they'll offer music and fun, along with alcoholic beverages, pizza, steaks and burgers. Today, the entrepreneurs are requesting a free liquor license from city officials.

Meat Processor Gets Unexpected PR Boost

DES MOINES — A mistake by a meat processing company will mean 3,000 cooked chickens for the needy.

Des Moines-based Iowa Packing Co. cooked too many chickens for a custom order at its St. Joseph, Mo., plant.

The extra ready-to-eat birds will be distributed this weekend at the Christ the King Catholic Church.

"This is a tremendous donation," said Keith Isley, development director at Hope Ministries, which operates Bethel Mission and Door of Faith shelter and serves an estimated 150,000 meals a year. Hope Ministries will get 800 of the two-pound birds.

"This will help us for many weeks to come," Isley said. "There are many ways a company can deal with overruns, but this is a great way for them and for us."

Monsignor Frank Bognanno said his longtime friend, Dan Ochylski, president of the Pinnacle Food Group, Iowa Packing's holding company, asked the priest if he would like some of the extra chickens.

"I told him we'd take all" of them, Bognanno said.

Christ the King parishioners will hand out the bagged poultry at a drive-through pickup site at the church.

"I suspect we will go through them real fast," Bognanno said.