The Odd Truth, Feb. 27, 2003

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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.

Asleep At The Wheel

TOKYO - A driver fell asleep at the helm of one of Japan's bullet trains while it was speeding at 170 mph with 800 passengers on board, the railway company said Thursday.

It was the first time on record someone has nodded off while driving the Shinkansen, or bullet train - a high-speed train that reaches maximum speeds of 180 miles per hour, West Japan Railway said. The train was apparently on autopilot at the time.

The train pulled into a station en route from Hiroshima and Tokyo and came to a halt about 300 feet before it was supposed to.

When officials from the station rushed to the driver's car, they found him asleep in his chair, JR West said.

The 33-year-old driver told West Japan Railway officials he "has no memory" of what happened for about eight minutes until he was awakened.

Drivers normally take over from the automatic controls and drive the train manually in the final approach to a station.

West Japan Railway said the driver had gotten plenty of sleep and hadn't been drinking alcohol before the incident. The company is still investigating why he fell asleep.

There were no injuries to anyone on board.

Rio Orders 58,000 Condoms For Carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO - It looks like it's going to be a fun Carnival — behind bars. Brazilian prison authorities are ordering more than 58,000 condoms for Carnival — Brazil's version of Mardi Gras. Guards are handing out the condoms to the 9,000 prisoners at one state pen. The inmates will be allowed conjugal visits during the holiday. Officials say getting some private time with the opposite sex reduces tensions in the overcrowded prison.

Get Your Finger And Toe Nails!

HOUSTON - A man who supervised the donated-body program at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston allegedly pocketed more than $18,000 from selling nails from the fingers and toes of cadavers, a newspaper said.

Allen Tyler Jr. supervised the school's Willed Body Program for 36 years until he was fired May 9.

The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday that newly released records showed Tyler received at least $18,210 from Watson Laboratories Inc. of Salt Lake City for the sale of hundreds of human fingernails and toenails used to test experimental medicines.

Federal law prohibits profiting from the sale of human bodies and the FBI is investigating, said agency spokesman Bob Doguim. No one has been charged.

So far Tyler has refused to talk to investigators, the Chronicle reported.

In one transaction, Tyler received $4,005 for 232 fingernails at $15 each and 35 toenails at $15 each, according to Tyler's records.

The newspaper said Tyler also received at least $56,000 in direct payments from a New Jersey company.

Officials said they also learned that Tyler had allowed the ashes of dozens of cremated donated bodies to be mixed, making it impossible to return ashes to donors' families. After the medical center informed the families involved, relatives of several body donors sued Tyler and the school. Those lawsuits are pending.

Robbery Committed With Baby

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A man allegedly robbed a convenience store while toting along his 9-month-old son in a car seat.

Jarrod Devinney ran to a nearby hotel with the baby and about $120 allegedly stolen in the robbery, according to a complaint filed in court.

Without the baby, "it probably would have been a little easier for him to get away," said robbery detective John Thies, who handled Monday's incident. "He's running with that child. He kind of sticks out."

The clerk - who identified Devinney, 22, after his arrest - said a man with a baby came inside the store, bought a candy bar and left. He then returned and asked if he could stand inside because it was too cold outside for the baby, the complaint said.

After customers thinned out, the man stuck his hand inside his jacket and allegedly demanded cash. When the clerk refused, he "told her that if she didn't give him the money, he was going to shoot her," the complaint said.

Officers who checked nearby hotels found only one tenant with a baby.

"The baby was sleeping when I got there," Thies said, adding that the mother "was a little bit upset at the whole incident."

Spain Bags 'Sexist' Tourism Ad

MADRID - The Spanish authorities have agreed to drop a tourism promotion advertisment because it was sexist, a women's rights group said Thursday.

The newspaper ad, encouraging vacations in the northeastern region of Catalonia, showed the back of a naked suntanned woman with the mark left by a string bikini. A slogan read, "Spain marks you".

The Observatori de les Dones, a Catalan watchdog for women's issues, lodged a complaint claiming the ad was discriminatory and sexist.

The ad, unveiled earlier this week, was funded by both the central and regional governments. Turespana, Spain's tourism agency, said the ad would be replaced by others showing general pictures of sun and beaches. The Generalitat, or regional government of Catalonia, also said it would drop the ad.

"We've decided not to use pieces that may hurt the sensibility of some groups," said Joana Ortega, director of the Catalan Women's Institute, which is part of the Catalan regional government.

From now on, she said, ads to promote the region will focus on family tourism, the public image of Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi, and the next celebration of the year dedicated to renowned surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

Twins Baseball Imposter Strikes Out

MINNEAPOLIS - A man posing as a Minnesota Twins baseball player tried to buy a million-dollar home, but was foiled when he produced a supposedly official document riddled with misspellings and bad grammar.

Dewitt Alonzo Davison, 21, insisted he was just trying to impress his fiancee and her family.

Davison told real estate agents he had recently signed a $17 million contract with the Twins and wanted to buy a home before he reported for spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. He provided a letter, purportedly from the Twins, that verified his financial status.

But the letter was riddled with misspellings, which made seller Robert Griggs suspicious about the prospective buyer of the $1.495 million home.

Griggs' real estate agent contacted the Twins organization, which said they had no one by that name under contract and certainly did not pay him $17 million.

Davison was arrested for being a military deserter.

"It was a stupid little joke that went too far," Davison said. "I guess I was trying to impress some people."

Woman Gives Birth Waiting In Traffic

NEW YORK - The express lane took on new meaning for a Brooklyn woman - when she gave birth outside a New York City tunnel.

Elva Novoa was driving to a Manhattan hospital this morning when suddenly her contractions gained speed.

Her brother-in-law stopped the car in the E-Z Pass lane of the Midtown Tunnel toll plaza. The woman's mother was also there to help.

An officer showed up to see what was wrong. But, as a spokesman put it, "the baby was already there."

The mother and eight-pound baby boy continued on to the hospital - together.

A nurse says mom and her rush-hour baby are doing fine.

Thai Gas Stations Now Offer Massage

BANGKOK, Thailand - Motorists tense from Bangkok's notorious traffic jams and aggressive drivers can now stop at gas stations for a fill-up - and a good back rub.

Bangchak Petroleum on Thursday officially opened its first Thai traditional massage service at a Bangkok gas station. The company plans to open a total of 15 such centers before Songkran, the Thai New Year holiday in April.

"Drivers tend to get very tired on the road, especially in Bangkok's congested traffic and around the country as well," said Bangkok resident David Ogan.

"If you can avoid major damage to yourself or to your car or to your family by getting a massage for $4.70, it's very worthwhile indeed," he said

The gas station massage parlors will offer massages for the body, head, feet and shoulders, in additional to Thai herbal massage treatments.