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The Odd Truth, Dec. 5, 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.


Hair Flair

ALBANY, Ga. - A hair stylist was pumping gas into her car when her hair burst into flames.

"That scared me to death," said stylist Traci Marshall.

The fire was probably caused by static electricity from Marshall's hair rubbing against her clothes, said her husband, Camilla firefighter Lt. Bill Marshall.

The static electricity apparently mixed with gas fumes and ignited the fire Sunday.

"I started beating my hair to get out the fire and saw flames coming out of the gas tank," she said.

A man with a fire extinguisher put out the blaze.

Traci Marshall had to cut her hair and get her truck repaired.

Bill Marshall advised people to ground themselves before pumping gas by touching the metal of their cars.

"Once you get out of your vehicle, don't get back into the vehicle until you are through," he said.

Officials also remind people to turn off cell phones and pagers when pumping gas because those devices can also spark explosions.

Maybe Crime Does Pay ...

INDIANAPOLIS - A man convicted of providing illegal cable television hookups will become a spokesman for the cable company from which he stole.

Dennis Cheatem, of Indianapolis, has agreed to appear in infomercials for Bright House Networks to discuss the consequences of stealing cable, said Al Aldridge, a spokesman for the company.

Cheatem, 47, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one felony count of theft and was fined $10,000. The fine could be cut in half if he successfully completes one year in a minimum-security prison and performs community service, said Roger Rayl, a spokesman for the Marion County prosecutor's office.

Authorities said Cheatem, a licensed plumber, bought a used cable company repair van last year and posed as a Bright House employee. Prosecutors say Cheatem claimed to provide cable to needy families but instead pocketed the money in at least one case.

Cheatem was arrested in April after he approached an undercover officer with an offer of free cable.

McDonald's Manager Run Over Following Mayo Spat

HOUSTON, Texas - A woman who ran over a McDonald's manager after not getting mayo on her cheeseburger has been sentenced to ten years in prison.

Jurors in Houston convicted Waynetta Nolan of aggravated assault.

Prosecutors say on April 23rd Nolan ran over Sherry Allen Jenkins.

Nolan - who apologized for the incident - testified she thought she'd just rolled over "a bump."

The Houston Chronicle reports the incident began when an employee at the drive-thru window told Nolan that mayo wasn't an option on cheeseburgers.

Nolan became angry. She was then encouraged to pull her car around to the window counter and speak to the manager.

Jenkins called police when she couldn't satisfy the customer. The manager was run over when she walked out to the drive-thru line to get Nolan's license plate number.

Jenkins was later arrested at her home.

Let The Punishment Fit The Crime

AUBURN, Wash. - Two boys who fired BB's at a group of children and a teen in a wheelchair have been sentenced to spend two days sitting in a wheelchair at a mall.

A Juvenile Court judge in Washington state told the 12-year-olds to write a two-page report on the experience by December 15th.

The judge also sentenced the boys to 76 hours of community service. If they stay out of trouble for a year's probation, their record of seven felonies for assault will be wiped clean.

Police arrested the two last month after they fired a BB gun at children playing outside a day-care center in Auburn. The boys also hit a 14-year-old in a wheelchair twice before he took cover behind a bush.

They also chipped the windshield on a truck.

In court, the boys apologized to the shooting victims.

Pension Surprise

LOS ANGELES - A 92-year-old retired farm worker received nearly $77,000 in belated payments from a pension he never knew existed.

The money had languished since Francisco Martinez retired from his job as a field irrigator on a Salinas lettuce farm 17 years ago.

"I feel very good and very happy and very rich," Martinez said after receiving a check Thursday from the United Farm Workers at the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles.

Martinez, who retired to the Mexican border city of Mexicali, will also receive monthly pension payments of nearly $1,680. He plans to put most of the windfall in a savings account for his family.

Martinez learned of the pension after two daughters who live in California saw news accounts of other union members getting pensions retroactively, said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. He later went into a union office for the details.

The pension was created through the efforts of activist and UFW founder Cesar Chavez. In 1975, Martinez and other field laborers voted to unionize. An agreement the following year compelled his employer, California Coastal Farms, to contribute to a pension plan, Rodriguez said.

Martinez, who was born in Mexico and speaks little English, worked on the farm for 11 years. He said no one ever told him about the pension. Still, he praised the famous labor activist.

"Cesar Chavez was a really valiant person," Martinez said. "If it wasn't for the work he did I wouldn't be getting this money today."

Anti-Gay Mayor Disappears After Indictment

SAO PAULO, Brazil - A mayor in southern Brazil who signed a decree banning homosexuals from entering his town has been indicted under anti-discrimination laws, the state prosecutor handling the case said Wednesday.

"Mayor Elcio Berti stepped beyond any reasonable limit," prosecutor Agenor Salgado told The Associated Press. "If convicted, he could face two to four years in prison aside from losing his office."

Berti, mayor of the 10,000-population town of Bocaiuva do Sul, 250 miles south of Sao Paulo, signed a decree Monday "prohibiting the presence in this jurisdiction of members of the class known as homosexuals, who can bring no benefits whatsoever to the town."

A gay rights group called Dignity announced that it would mount protests outside the Bocaiuva do Sul city hall on Thursday.

Berti was unavailable for comment.

"The mayor has shut down city hall and disappeared," said Bocaiuva do Sul police officer Waldemar Mateus. "Even we don't know where he is."

Salgado said Berti's decree violated anti-discrimination clauses in Brazil's 1988 Constitution as well as local laws against discrimination and the abuse of administrative powers.

In a statement accompanying his decree, Berti wrote that his intention was "to put family interests first."

Elected in 2000, Berti has issued other decrees that were later knocked down by courts. One decree banned the sale of condoms in the town, while another prohibited the sale of cigarettes.

Forget Disneyland ...

SINGAPORE - A factory that turns sewage into drinking water is being promoted as Singapore's latest tourist attraction, local media reported Friday.

The government launched an aggressive campaign last year to prepare Singaporeans for waste water that is processed so that it is again clean enough to drink, a product dubbed "Newater."

This February, the country started replenishing about 1 percent of its total daily water consumption with the reclaimed waste water.

Keen to share its Newater success with the rest of the world, Singapore's Public Utilities Board has printed glossy brochures about the Newater plant, which will be distributed at hotels, tour agencies and other tourist attractions, the Straits Times daily said.

The utility board was not immediately available for comment.

This resource-scarce city-state now buys more than half of its water from neighboring Malaysia under decades-old treaties, which start expiring in 2011. The water trade has sparked occasional spats between the two nations over pricing and other issues.

The government hopes that Newater will help Singapore eventually become self-sufficient when it comes to water.

Tourists are not shown the actual process of sewage being transformed into Newater, but they do get to take home a freshly produced bottle, the Straits Times said.

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