The Odd Truth, March 5, 2004

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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.


Big Tipper

CANTON, Ohio - Talk about leaving a bad tip at the restaurant.

A 22-year-old woman found the severed tip of a thumb in her lunch salad at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers.

Stark County Health Commissioner Bill Franks said a worker at the restaurant, in the Canton suburb Jackson Township about 70 miles south of Cleveland, was chopping lettuce Monday night when he cut off part of his left thumb, including part of the fingernail.

Employees searched for the fingertip, but could not find it. The area was cleaned and sanitized, but the lettuce was placed in a cooler and then used for salads on Tuesday.

"It wound up being served at lunch time Tuesday to a 22-year-old woman," Franks said.

She had eaten most of her salad when she put the fingertip in her mouth, Franks said.

She first thought it was a piece of gristle, a health department report said.

Red Robin spokesman Dwayne Chambers said employees, in their haste to get the injured man to a doctor, failed to follow the chain's procedures and throw out all food in the area.

"We clearly had a breakdown," he said. "We are incredibly sorry about what happened."

Chambers said he spoke with the woman. "She obviously was pretty upset," he said.

A Car Thief With NASCAR Dreams

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - A teenager stole a luxury sports car, barreled through a security gate at a motor speedway and then went four laps at 100 mph before he was arrested, police said.

Feliphe Ramos, 18, stole the 2004 Infiniti G35 worth more than $30,000 from a hospital construction site Wednesday after the driver left the keys in the ignition, police said. The driver had been lent the G35 by a dealership while his car was being repaired.

He sped past guards, crashed through a security gate and then began doing laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, home of NASCAR and Indy car races, police said.

After doing four laps, Ramos either lost control or stopped. Track workers held him until police arrived.

"He must have wanted to get on the track pretty bad," speedway president Curtis Gray said. "Nothing like that has ever happened here before."

Ramos was charged with grand theft auto, burglary, criminal mischief and reckless driving, and was being held Thursday on $17,500 bail.

The car incurred about $3,000 worth of damage to the bumper, hood and lights, according to preliminary estimates.

"Who knows what (Ramos) was thinking?" police Capt. Ed Bowe said. "It's kind of strange."

Thrift Store Receives $125,000 In Cash

PORT MOODY, British Columbia - The will stipulated that most of the man's money go to charities. And the cash did just that.

Shirley Stewart was used to finding dirty diapers and other strange items among the donations to a thrift store, but finding $125,800 in cash and a will came as a surprise.

Stewart, a volunteer at Share Family and Community Services in this suburb east of Vancouver, made the discovery while going through a carload of donated goods.

She opened a grocery bag and found more grocery bags inside, doubled up and bound with string. Tearing open one of the bags, she saw a wad of cash inside a sandwich bag. More bundles followed.

"At first, I thought someone had been playing with a copying machine," Stewart said Wednesday.

She then went through a garbage can she had been using and found she had inadvertently discarded some documents with the name of the man who once owned the donated goods and the cash.

Later, others at the thrift store found the man's will in an old chocolate box.

The money was deposited in a bank, and the next day the staff found a lawyer who was acting as executor of the man. The man recently died in his 70s and had no relatives. His will stipulated that most of the money was to go to charities.

When Seniors Attack!

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Food fight! An upscale Florida retirement home looked more like "Animal House" the other day. A salad bar dispute turned into a senior citizens' brawl at the Spring Haven Retirement Community. Police say 62-year-old resident Lee Thoss was picking through the lettuce. That disgusted 86-year-old William Hocker, who was in line behind Thoss. There was some name-calling, shoving and punches thrown. Police say other residents got involved in the buffet melee and one man was even bitten. Authorities won't be pressing any criminal charges in the old folks' food fight. But home managers have asked Thoss to move out.

Prankster Sends HIV Warning Letters

ARLINGTON, Va. - It's a cruel hoax. Officials at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington say someone is sending out phony HIV warnings. The letters are on what looks like hospital stationery and say the recipient had sex with a person who tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The phony letters have been sent to people from Washington to Richmond. Hospital officials say they have no idea what's behind the hoax. Police are investigating and warn the person responsible could face criminal charges.

Birmingham School Offers Classes In Elvish

BIRMINGHAM, England - It's central England, not Middle Earth, but one school is offering its pupils the chance to learn Elvish.

Youngsters at Turves Green Boys' Technology College in Birmingham are being offered weekly after-hours lessons in Sindarin, a conversational form of Elvish invented by "Lord of the Rings" creator J.R.R. Tolkien and based on Welsh sounds.

Educational co ordinator Zainab Thorp said she hoped the classes would help boost the self-esteem of pupils, some of whom have learning difficulties.

"The recent success of the 'Lord of the Rings' films has increased the interest in learning Elvish," Thorp said.

"The children really enjoy it. It breaks the idea that education should simply be aimed at getting a job."

Thorp said Tolkien was an expert in ancient languages who had developed two forms of Elvish.

Sindarin was based on Welsh sounds and was the more commonly used, while Quenya, which related to Finnish, was largely a ceremonial language.

"A couple of the boys are very into role-playing games. Knowing Sindarin is useful when giving orders to their Elvish armies," Thorp said.

"It's also very useful if they want to go on to university to study, as it involves looking at some of Tolkien's old manuscripts. This develops some very complex skills."

German Court Rejects Government-Paid Brothel Visits

BERLIN - A court on Friday rejected a German man's demand for four government-paid brothel visits a month to ensure his "health and bodily well-being" while his wife is abroad.

The unemployed 35-year-old welfare recipient sought some $3,050 a month to fund the brothel trips, along with eight pornographic videos and transport costs to and from a video store. He sued the state after authorities refused to pay for his Thai wife to fly back to Germany.

A court in the town of Ansbach threw out the claim, saying social security benefits already cover "everyday requirements." It said the man, whom it did not identify, would appeal - at taxpayers' expense.

In the midst of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's drive to broadly trim welfare-state programs, court decisions in favor of welfare recipients have recently caused uproars in Germany.

Last August, an unemployed Frankfurt man won state-funded treatment with the impotence drug Viagra. Weeks later, another court ruled that German social services must pay a 64-year-old expatriate's $875-a-month rent in Miami.

The latter ruling prompted the government to tighten laws on welfare payments abroad and declare that "there will be no more social security under palm trees."

N.J. Town Closes Road For Salamander Breeding

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Q: Why did the salamander cross the road?

A: To get it on, on the other side.

A parade of randy salamanders forced the periodic closure of an East Brunswick road Thursday, and was expected to do the same Friday as police stopped traffic from squishing the ardent amphibians.

This is the time of year when salamanders use the road to get to Irelands Brook and several other small ponds where they breed.

The township has a program to protect the critters, officially known as the "Beekman Road Vernal Pool Protection Plan (Amphibian Road Kill Reduction Plan)."

Mayor William Neary said road kills significantly reduce salamander and frog populations and can lead to local extinctions at breeding ponds.

He said the migration usually occurs over one or two nights in March after a rain when the temperature is about 50 degrees.

Now, apparently, it's party time.

Police put out barricades after dark; the migrations usually run from six to 12 hours.

Spotted salamanders, spring peepers, green frogs, chorus frogs, wood frogs and Fowler's toads all cross the road, Neary said.

Once at the pond, the animals mate, the eggs are deposited in the pools, and the adults go their separate ways.

Cruel And Unusual Punishment

CHESTER, Vt. - Some may call it cruel and unusual punishment to be locked in a state police storage room with some Girl Scout cookies - and ordered not to eat them.

But it was too much for one New Hampshire man to resist.

Police brought Ethan Frock, 30, of Keene, N.H., to the Vermont State Police barracks in Rockingham on Wednesday, saying they found him with a small amount of marijuana.

Frock was a passenger in a car being driven by his brother, Dawson Frock, 36, of Boston. Police had stopped the car and took Dawson Frock into custody on suspicion of drinking and driving with a suspended license.

Because the State Police barracks lack a holding cell, suspects are frequently kept in the storage room until they can be taken elsewhere.

Ethan Frock noticed that there were several boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the storage room. Police told him to leave the cookies alone.

But when his stomach started rumbling, Frock couldn't help himself and started snacking on the cookies, court documents said. When police caught Frock munching on the treats, they charged him with theft.

Frock paid the price: He pleaded guilty to marijuana possession and eating the cookies, receiving a combined fine of $500.

After his release, Frock said he looked forward to heading home and eating his own box of Girl Scout cookies.

Charges Dropped In Cat-Napping Case

GILLETTE, Wyo. - Charges were dropped against a man accused of kidnapping his neighbor's cat and holding it for ransom last fall.

Deryl Miles, 55, was arrested in September on larceny charges. He said he trapped the feline, named Brunswick, and held it for $50, leading police on a brief chase, because the cat was trespassing in his yard.

Prosecutors dropped the larceny charge on grounds the cat wasn't licensed, meaning it couldn't be defined as property under state statutes.

The animal, however, has since been licensed and prosecutors warned Miles he would be charged again if caught with the cat.

"You may be trapping cats and dogs at your own peril if you continue," Circuit Judge William S. Edwards said.

The man's run-in with the law apparently hasn't slowed him down.

Miles told the court he had trapped five animals in the past week, and would continue nabbing four-legged trespassers, though he promised to release them to authorities.

"The situation isn't over yet," Miles said after the hearing.