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The Odd Truth, Dec. 24, 2003

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.

Reindeer Tackles Reporter

FAIRBANKS - A reporter for the NBC television station KTUU in Anchorage, found her way into the national spotlight while taping a scene with a young reindeer named Blitzen at the Santa Claus House in North Pole.

Just as the Santa hat-clad Meghan Stapleton knelt down with the reindeer's leash in hand, a spooked Blitzen leaped at the reporter, knocking her down in a manner one witness described as a "tackle."

Stapleton was not injured and even managed to hold on to the leash to keep Blitzen from running away, though he did drag her a couple feet.

"I thought the last thing I wanted to do was let Blitzen get away, especially two days before Christmas," Stapleton said.

Paul Brown, the Claus House sales manager who was handling Blitzen before giving Stapleton the leash, said the reporter quickly regained her composure.

"She had a good time with it. She ended up popping right up and laughing about it," Brown told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The holiday-theme store and attraction is about 10 miles south of Fairbanks.

Stapleton said she didn't immediately realize that the entire incident Monday had been caught on tape, considering the crew wasn't prepared to go live yet when she approached the reindeer.

But as soon as crew members saw the footage, they used the satellite truck on scene to send the blooper around the nation. Several NBC affiliates showed the tussle on morning news shows, including Tuesday's edition of "The Today Show."

"What's surprising is you can do what you feel are impactful stories, but the biggest one is where a reindeer runs over you," said Stapleton, who added that she's received e-mails from friends she hasn't heard from in years.

Yum, Dragees ...?

SAN FRANCISCO - Those little silver balls that decorate holiday cookies and gingerbread homes are in short supply in California this year following a crusade by a Napa lawyer who has sued stores and retailers seeking a ban of the glittery decorations.

Mark Pollock, an environmental lawyer, says he doesn't even know if anyone has been hurt or sickened by eating the BB-like sprinkles, which - who knew? - are called dragees. But he thinks the popular garnishes have the potential to put consumers at risk because silver is a toxic metal that can build up in the body over time and cause problems.

"Silver is a subtle poison," Pollock said, comparing it to mercury in fish. "Eating dragees unnecessarily increases your body burden of this chemical. If children start off with heavy doses in Christmas cookies, they start out behind in the race."

Specialty stores such as Seattle-based Sur La Table are selling their last remaining supplies of dragees because of Pollock's lawsuit. Fearful of getting dragged into the litigation, wholesalers and Internet suppliers have refused to sell any cookie decorations filled with silver, gold or copper to anyone in California.

"He's the Grinch that stole Christmas this year," said Gretchen Goehrend, owner of India Tree, a cake-decorating wholesaler in Seattle who claims she has lost $20,000 by refusing to sell the silver balls in California after she was sued by Pollock.

Federal and state authorities list silver as toxic at certain levels - for instance, for silver miners who breathe strong concentrations daily. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declared dragees as non-edible and requires jars to carry labels saying they are "for decoration only."

Body Double

OKLAHOMA CITY - The body of a prison inmate who hanged himself and was buried under another inmate's identity could be exhumed as early as next week.

The inmate who committed suicide in the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center and was buried Monday in a cemetery in Gore is believed to be Steven L. Howe, the state Corrections Department said.

Sequoyah County District Attorney Richard Gray said that if Howe's family agrees, an exhumation order can be presented to a judge on Monday.

The body was initially identified as that of Kevin Wyckoff, another inmate at Lexington, and the mistake was not discovered until Wyckoff telephoned his parents at their home in Sallisaw after they returned from the funeral.

The Corrections Department provided a tape of that telephone call to The Associated Press.

"Hey, Dad," Wyckoff said when his father, Charles Wyckoff, answered the phone.

"Huh. Well damn boy. We just had your funeral today," Charles Wyckoff replied.

A moment later, the father said:

"Well, what the hell is going on?"

Wyckoff also spoke to his mother. Authorities did not have her name and the Wyckoff's telephone went unanswered Wednesday.

"Hey mama," Wyckoff said.

"Kevin, I cannot believe this," she said.

"Wait, it's not my fault," Wyckoff replied.

"We buried you today boy," she said.

Corrections officials have spoken with the families of Wyckoff, 23, and Howe, 34. The two men bore a resemblance and nobody at the funeral realized the mistake.

Massie said Wyckoff and Howe had switched prison cells. Investigators were trying to determine whether they did so without permission or if staff made the switch without filing a report.

Charming Holiday Bank Robber Strikes

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - This thief is charmed, not armed.

Police say a bank robber has used his good manners to rob thousands of dollars, usually wishing tellers a Merry Christmas before he steals the money.

He walks into a bank, always unarmed, approaches a teller and offers a warm greeting, police said.

"I hope you have a Merry Christmas," he says as he hands over a note demanding money.

Police said the note says, "I am a robber, give me all the money, don't give me any dye pack, you have 20 seconds."

The man then takes the cash, puts it in his own envelope and calmly leaves. Police suspect he hit banks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties over the past month. The latest strike came Monday at a Wachovia Bank in Hollywood, when he walked off with more than $5,000.

"In all of them he is extremely polite," Hollywood police Capt. Tony Rode said. "Notwithstanding his polite manners we consider him a dangerous felon."

Rudolph May Be Turned Back At U.S. Border

NEW YORK - The National Farmers Union says Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer is worried he might be turned back at the Canada-U.S. border tonight.

The farmers group says that's because of restrictions imposed following Canada's mad cow discovery in May.

The U.S. isn't allowing any ruminants from Canada, such as cows and deer, over 30 months old to enter the country. And then only as boxed meat.

Farmers Union official Don Mills jokes that could be a problem, since the North Pole is geographically in Canada.

Mills says their research shows the original eight reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen - must have been born sometime before 1822.

He adds Rudolph appeared sometime before 1939.

Mills says Rudolph is investigating how high they would have to fly to be able to at least parachute presents into the U.S.

Santa Spotted By NORAD

NEW YORK - Sightings of reindeer and a big sleigh are being reported in the skies over Australia.

NORAD's Santa Tracking Radar shows a large man with a sleigh full of presents flying from one rooftop to another in the land down-under.

NORAD says Santa's flight path will likely head west through Asia, up and down Africa, and north to Europe before crossing the Atlantic this evening.

Santa Claus and his nine reindeer should be flying over Canada late tonight as he likes to use the stars to chart his course.

NORAD has set up a radar tracking site that can tell you where jolly old Saint Nick is and where he'll go next.

It's on the Internet at

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