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The Odd Truth, Dec. 2, 2003

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.


Tis The Season!

ORANGE CITY, Fla. - A mob of shoppers rushing for a sale on DVD players trampled the first woman in line and knocked her unconscious as they scrambled for the shelves at a discount department store.

Patricia VanLester had her eye on a $29 DVD player at a Wal-Mart SuperCenter, but when the siren blared at 6 a.m. Friday announcing the start to the post-Thanksgiving sale, the 41-year-old was knocked to the ground by the frenzy of shoppers behind her.

"She got pushed down, and they walked over her like a herd of elephants," said VanLester's sister, Linda Ellzey. "I told them, `Stop stepping on my sister! She's on the ground!"'

Ellzey said some shoppers tried to help VanLester, and one employee helped Ellzey reach her sister, but most people just continued their rush for deals.

"All they cared about was a stupid DVD player," she said Saturday.

Paramedics called to the store found VanLester unconscious on top of a DVD player, surrounded by shoppers seemingly oblivious to her, said Mark O'Keefe, a spokesman for EVAC Ambulance.

She was flown to a hospital, where doctors said she had a seizure after she was knocked down and would likely remain hospitalized through the weekend, Ellzey said.

"She's all black and blue," Ellzey said. "Patty doesn't remember anything. She still can't believe it all happened."

Ellzey said Wal-Mart officials called later Friday to ask about her sister, and the store apologized and offered to put a DVD player on hold for her.

Castration Thwarted

SANTA FE, N.M. - A woman was convicted of kidnapping for planning an attack in which four of her friends assaulted and attempted to castrate her ex-boyfriend.

Melissa French, 27, was convicted Wednesday and faces at least 18 years in prison - more than any of the attackers, all of whom accepted plea deals with prosecutors.

The men attacked Donald Hamilton at his Santa Fe home in June 2002. A assault rifle was placed in Hamilton's mouth and later fired between his legs, and the word "narc" was carved into his forehead with a pocketknife. He suffered separated shoulders, stab wounds and broken bones.

French was acquitted of kidnapping Hamilton, but convicted of kidnapping his roommate, who was held down during the attack.

French's attorney, Stephen Aarons, said French had turned down a plea deal that carried a minimum four-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors said French told the attackers - including her ex-husband, Haley G. French - that Hamilton had burglarized Haley French's home.

After showing the men where Hamilton lived, Melissa French was dropped off at a convenience store while Hamilton was attacked, prosecutor Linda Lonsdale said.

Cold Case: Auto Theft Unit

NEW YORK - Auto thieves be warned: New York police won't give up the chase - even if it takes 20 years.

On Monday, police said they arrested Scott Kenny, 46, in connection with the May 1983 theft of an automobile.

Twenty years ago, the 1968 Mercury Cougar was reported stolen from a home. Fast-forward two decades to Nov. 19, 2003, when a Newsday ad appeared advertising the car.

A retired New York City police sergeant saw the ad and went to check the auto out, taking pictures to send to a retired detective who's a Mercury Cougar enthusiast.

The retired detective saw the car's vehicle identification number in one of the photos and matched it to the registration of a car he once lost to auto thieves 20 years ago: a 1968 Mercury Cougar.

City police do not close auto theft cases until the cars are recovered, so Kenny, who said he got the car from a family member, was arrested when police were notified.

"The statute of limitations is up on grand larceny," said Officer Jennara Everleth, a police spokeswoman. She said all Kenny can be charged with is criminal possession of stolen property.

Everleth said the car is sitting at a pound, waiting for its original owner, and is still in good condition, though it might need a paint job.

Black Cat Banned From Halls

JERUSALEM - An Israeli cat has been banned from circulating freely in the stairwell of a suburban Tel Aviv apartment building, apparently because its black color was frightening the residents.

Kooshi, a 7-year-old mixed breed shorthair, has a midnight black coat and green sparkling eyes.

Its owners were told by municipal veterinarian Jonathan Even-Zor of Rishon Letzion they had to cradle the cat when descending the building's staircase - or risk having it impounded.

"This is a black cat that on its way downstairs occasionally passes through the legs of building residents, some of whom are afraid of the cat, quite possibly because of its black color," Even-Zor wrote to Dan and Ariel Morganstern.

"Even if this reaction is based on superstition, people who are afraid of the cat should not be forced to encounter it on the stairwell, particularly when the area is not illuminated," the letter said. It ordered the couple to carry the cat when walking down the stairs.

The Morgansterns, owners of four cats, objected to the order and engaged the services of Asaf Marx, a lawyer with Israel's Cat Welfare Society.

Marx, an expert in Israeli animal-rights law, wrote to Even-Zor, threatening to go to court if the order against Kooshi is not rescinded.

"The city of Rishon Letzion doesn't have a leg to stand on," he said. "A veterinarian can issue an order like this only if an animal constitutes a threat to public health or to public order. Kooshi is clean, he's been vaccinated and neutered, and is extremely well mannered. He's being singled out only because of his color."

Sara Novestern, a spokeswoman for the city government, said the order had nothing to do with Kooshi's color.

Riva Mayer of the Cat Welfare Society said fear of black cats is pervasive in Israel.

'I Brake For Terrorism And War'?

ATLANTA - A man who slapped a bumper sticker referring to terrorism and war on the side of a plane caused a four-hour delay for a domestic flight.

The man pasted the sticker on the door as a practical joke while boarding an Atlanta-to-San Francisco flight Sunday, AirTran Airways spokesman Tad Hutcheson said.

A ground crew worker noticed the sticker after all passengers were on board. The captain was notified by radio and decided not to take off. All 162 people on the plane had to get off and go through a second security screening.

Authorities would not describe the sticker other than to say that it was about terrorism and war.

Hutcheson said the prankster was discovered by security screeners. He was not charged with a crime - nor was he identified by the airline - and was allowed to continue on to San Francisco.

Toll Booth Ruins Spending Spree

PHILADELPHIA - With a little spare change, Guillermo Martinez could have kept running from the law. The Philadelphia man is accused of tapping into his company's bank account and using some of the money to take a pair strippers to Miami. But Martinez ran out of luck and quarters at a toll plaza near Annapolis, Maryland. He put his real name on a form that would have allowed him to pay later by mail. A clerk ran a check and found Martinez on a wanted list. He was arrested the day before Thanksgiving and has been brought back to Pennsylvania. Authorities alleged he used a debit card to steal about $150,000 from the nursing home company where he worked.

Lap It Up, Snobby Dogs

CANBERRA, Australia - Plain old water may no longer be good enough for pampered dogs, now that they have the choice of the bottled stuff in flavors like chicken and corn, liver and bacon, or beef.

Australian Andrew Larkey launched the purified Dog Plus K-9 water Tuesday, which sells for a little more $2 a bottle.

"It's like a sports drink for dogs," Larkey said. "Dogs get bored with plain water - they deserve variety just as much as people."

Larkey plans a similar line of drinks for cats, in roast chicken and pork flavors early next year.

People can safely drink it as well, he said, but it probably won't be a hit with humans.

"I've actually developed a bit of a taste for it myself, but I think most people's first reaction is to be a little suspicious," he said.

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