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The Odd Truth, Dec. 8, 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.

Policeman Pretend

CLARKSTOWN, N.Y. - Mistake No. 1: Impersonating a police officer.

Mistake No. 2: Making a traffic stop.

Mistake No. 3: Stopping an off-duty state trooper.

Shalom Gelbman, 22, of New Square, N.Y., made all three mistakes, state police said.

Gelbman, with a strobe light on his dashboard and his high beams flashing, pulled a car over Wednesday night on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, police said. Inside the car was state Trooper Seamus Lyons, who arrested Gelbman. It was clear to Lyons that Gelbman wasn't a colleague, authorities said, because of his license plate number and the equipment he had in his car.

Gelbman was charged with reckless endangerment and criminal impersonation, police said, and was cited for having unauthorized equipment in his car, a dark blue Mercury Grand Marquis with tinted windows.

Gelbman was also ticketed for driving without a registration or insurance. He was released on $5,000 bail after being arraigned in Clarkstown Justice Court.

Tranny Wins Turner Prize

LONDON - A cross-dressing ceramic artist whose vases are drawn with images of sex acts, child abuse and death, was named Sunday as winner of the Turner Prize for contemporary British art.

Grayson Perry, 43, collected the $34,000 prize at a ceremony at the Tate Britain art gallery in London, dressed as his alter ego Claire, a character that appears in some of his works.

The Turner Prize is regularly derided for relying on shock value at the expense of traditional forms of art. This year's shortlisted works on display at Tate Britain included a cast of two large dolls engaged in a sex act, a work by brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman.

"It's about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize," said Perry, who appeared at the prize ceremony in a lilac dress with puffed sleeves.

"I think the art world had more difficulty coming to terms with me being a potter than my choice of frocks," he joked, before adding: "I only want to thank one person, my wife Philippa. She's been my best editor, sponsor, supporter and mainly my lover. Thank you."

The Turner Prize rewards an artist aged under 50 for an outstanding exhibition of work over a recent 12-month period. To be eligible, the artist must either be working in the United Kingdom or British-born.

Perry is best known for his classically shaped vases which he intricately paints with figures, patterns and text. Subjects include autobiographical images of himself, Claire and his family, as well as examinations of cultural stereotypes.

Some of the more unusual entries in recent years have included a soiled bed, a pickled cow and a painting adorned with elephant dung. Last year's winner, Keith Tyson, presented lead casts of every item on a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant's menu.

Santa Panics, Collapses In Guyana

GEORGETOWN, Guyana - A Caribbean Santa fainted under a blazing sun while distributing candy to a swarm of children on a stage in a remote mining town near the equator.

Santa Claus panicked when more than 100 children stormed the stage Saturday to scoop up the sweets in the bauxite mining town of Linden, 70 miles south of Georgetown, police said.

Wearing a traditional winter Santa suit in this South American country, Santa buckled under the more than 80-degree heat and slumped to the ground.

Onlookers rushed him to a nearby hospital where he was kept under observation for several hours and then released. Police and hospital officials refused to name the Santa, saying the middle-aged man was worried he'd be the laughing stock of the town of 30,000 residents.

Santa was hired by British home furnishing giant Courts PLC, which earlier in the day had used heavy-duty speakers mounted on a truck to invite parents to send their children to collect the candies and other small gifts. It was part of a promotional campaign in the run-up to the Christmas holiday season.

Animal Farm In Cambodia?

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Five pigs searching for food ran into their owner's house in Cambodia, knocked over a container of gasoline and started a fire that killed the sleeping owner and seriously injured his wife, a newspaper reported Monday.

Phan Sophal, 37, died from burn injuries in hospital after the incident last Thursday in Kampong Speu province, 30 miles southwest of the capital, Phnom Penh, the Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) newspaper said.

The victim's 32-year-old wife, Ly Rany, was burned and remains hospitalized in critical condition, the report said.

The pigs ran into the kitchen to look for food after the couple forgot to lock them in their pen at the end of the day, the report said. They knocked over a container holding about 5 gallons of gasoline, which splashed onto the stove where Ly Rany was cooking and started "a raging fire," the newspaper said.

Phan Sophal ran from his bed after catching fire and plunged into a nearby pond to extinguish the flames, according to the report.

The couple have three children who were not home at the time of the fire.

Thousands Riot After Midget No-Show

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - Thousands of fans rioted at Sierra Leone's national stadium Saturday when authorities substituted two local dwarf comedians for a widely anticipated out-of-town midget duo. Police arrested 30 people, amid damage and dozens of injuries.

Daylong radio ads had whipped up excitement and ticket sales for Friday night's scheduled performance by the two Nigerian entertainers, Aki and Paw Paw.

The Nigerian performers failed to show by early morning. Organizers put the two local dwarf comedians on the stage instead.

Fans rioted, throwing projectiles and smashing windows, light fixtures and hundreds of chairs.

Witnesses said police fired tear gas. Authorities said 30 people were arrested, including eight who allegedly had tried to steal the stadium's seats.

Dozens of show-goers were reported injured in the melee. Saturday, blood splattered parts of the stadium.

Acting President Solomon Berewa, filling in while President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is at a Commonwealth summit in Nigeria, toured the riot site Saturday and condemned the violence.

Sierra Leone's National Stadium was built as a gift from China. The stadium was under repairs for damage from the West African nation's devastating 10-year rebellion, ended in January 2002.

Bungee Jumping, Without The Bungee

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A New Zealand man went bungee jumping Sunday - without the rope, police said.

The 30-year-old man, whose name was not released, leapt off a platform into the Waikato River on New Zealand's central North Island after staff at the bungee had refused to let him jump, said Constable Tracey Haggart of Taupo police.

He then barged past the staff and dived 154 feet into the river.

The impact knocked him unconscious and he was rescued by the bungee jump staff before being flown to nearby Taupo hospital, Haggart said in a statement. His condition was not immediately available.

Taupo is a tourist town 233 miles north of the capital, Wellington.

Haggart said police had no plans to charge the man, who had consumed "a small amount of alcohol."

Turtle Man With A Turtle Plan

TEWKSBURY, N.J. - Richard Ogust found his calling in Chinatown.

There, he met Empress, a black-and-orange diamondback terrapin trapped in a tank at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

A decade after Ogust paid $20 to liberate Empress, his Manhattan loft is filled with 80 species of turtles - more than the Bronx Zoo.

But the operation has been costly, both financially and personally, and Ogust has organized a nonprofit group with the goal of moving his menagerie to 50 acres on a farm in Tewksbury.

"I am freaking out about the responsibility and the weight to keep it all going," Ogust, 51, told The Star-Ledger of Newark.

A thousand turtles have passed through Ogust's loft, which buzzes with flies and smells like a fish kill. His collection ranges from 60-pound Burmese Mountain Tortoises to half-pound Musk turtles. They come from illegal shipments, Asian food markets and even zoos, which entrust the rarest of species to his care.

Of 60 critically endangered Arrakine Forrest turtles in the United States, 34 reside in Ogust's apartment.

More than 100 gurgling tanks are stacked from the floor to the 20-foot ceiling and surrounded by PVC tubes and colorful electrical wiring. The thermostat stays at 80 degrees.

The entire operation costs $20,000 per month, the dozen polybead filters used in the tanks cost $300,000 to install. Private donors and grants help, but Ogust, who has an inheritance, foots most of the bill.

Last year, Ogust organized the nonprofit Tewksbury Institute of Herpetology. The group has spoken to Tewksbury officials several times and hopes to make a presentation to the township planning board soon.

Plans call for a 50-acre hydroponic paradise on a farm owned by Maurice Rodrigues, a member of the institute's board of directors.

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