The Odd Truth, March 8, 2004

SUV hero
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.

Fire House Fire

MELBOURNE, Fla. - Firefighters responding to emergencies here were in such a rush that they forgot to turn off a fryer in their kitchen. So the next emergency call involved a fire that started at their own station.

No one was injured in the blaze Thursday, because all four firefighters working at the time were out responding to several calls.

A Cocoa Beach firefighter was driving past and saw smoke escaping from the firehouse and called 911.

The firefighters from Station 72 then returned to fight the fire at their own station.

The building suffered a combination of smoke and fire damage, and the battalion chief has asked the city for a live-in trailer for the firefighters. He said the fire was accidental and no one would be reprimanded.

"We're human and this kind of relays that to the public, that we're just as human as them and we make our own mistakes," said Battalion Chief Robert Apel.

Robbers Catch Themselves

ATLANTA - Three robbers shouldn't have been too surprised when they heard their crime was caught on camera. After all, they took the pictures themselves.

Michael Lee Merritt, 18, Wendell Mackey, 20, and Darnell Robinson, 22, playfully took snapshots of themselves while driving around in a stolen SUV after robbing 35-year-old Eric Haney on Dec. 18, 2001. The three ambushed Haney at gunpoint outside his apartment, then went inside and took DVDs, a video game machine and clothes, police said.

After their joyride, the men unwittingly left the disposable camera in the car, helping police identify and track them down. In one of the photos, Merritt smiled smugly while wearing the victim's black leather jacket.

A jury convicted them last week of armed robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, aggravated assault and a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and burglary.

"They basically convicted themselves," Fulton County prosecutor Chris Toles said.

Pot In The Chicken

RATON, N.M. - It's not a case of chicken in the pot - but pot in the chicken. Marijuana and frozen chicken turned out to be the recipe for a bust on I-25 near Raton, New Mexico. An officer pulled over a tractor-trailer rig in a routine traffic stop. The officer became suspicious and a search of the truck turned up a load of illegal weed. More than 1,200 pounds of pot was stashed with the cargo of frozen chickens. Authorities haven't released the name of the driver, but say he's in custody.

Fishy Luggage

LONDON - British customs agents thought there was something fishy about one woman's luggage - and they were right. Nenneh Nyana Jaiteh was arrested at Gatwick airport south of London with more than 170 pounds of fish in her bags. She also had more than 13 pounds of mostly goat meat. Officials say the traveler from Gambia shouldn't have been trying to bring any meat or fish into Britain, but note the size of the haul is unusual. Jaiteh is charged with violating import restrictions. She's been released on bail and is due back in court next month.

Jobless Guardian Angel

BISMARCK, N.D. - Five unemployed people have a mysterious guardian angel to thank.

An envelope was left at the offices of Bismarck Job Service, which links employers and would-be employees. Director Wayne Brostrom opened the envelope to find five $100 bills and a letter.

"After receiving numerous rejection letters, I was recently hired for my dream job in Bismarck. I would like to thank Job Service," the letter said.

"Many people in Bismarck are actively seeking employment. In order to give them hope, I am enclosing $500 in cash. Please give a $100 bill to five unemployed people in Bismarck. Use your best judgment to determine the most deserving individuals."

It was signed, "Someone who's been there."

Job Service consultants narrowed the field and voted for five people to get the money. Among them were a woman who lost her job after a difficult pregnancy, a woman with housing and medical problems and a man with severe back trouble.

Dollie Schaan, a single mother of a 21-month-old and a 6-year-old, cried when she heard she was one of the chosen five.

"I had just gotten a disconnect notice from (the power company), and had three diapers left," Schaan said. "Life looked really bad."

The gift, she said, was like a "big miracle."

"We thrive on trying to give hope to people," Job Service consultant Michelle Jenks said last week. "We can't always do it financially, so this was a very special situation."

Long Lost Balloon

CONNOQUENESSING, Pa. - A note sent aloft on a green balloon 20 years ago by an elementary school student was returned last week by someone who lives halfway across the state.

Shane Fleeger, now 30, received the laminated note he had sent out as a fourth-grader in nearby Butler. The note, which arrived Tuesday to the school office, had asked the receiver to please send it back.

"Look at how neat my handwriting was then," Fleeger said. "It's not that neat now."

Somehow, the note made its way about 170 miles southeast to Robert Brindle's farm in St. Thomas, Franklin County, about an hour south of Harrisburg.

Brindle, 49, said he thinks he found the note about 15 years ago, but doesn't remember exactly when he found it, only how.

"I was out in the field hunting, so I found it and brought it in and I guess I laid it in the garage. And this winter I went to cleaning the garage and I found this note again, so I figured we'll send this thing and see if it makes it to the guy," said Brindle, who said he had no idea where Connoquenessing is.

"I planned on sending it sooner, and you know how that goes - you forget about it," Brindle said. "So I found it again and I sent it."

Fleeger said he planned to write to thank Brindle.

Elephant Tug-Of-War

JERUSALEM - The Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team is not happy after its latest loss - to a 15-year-old girl.

To be fair, they weren't shooting hoops, and the girl was Michaela, an Asian elephant from the Jerusalem Zoo. On Friday, the team took on Michaela in a tug-of-war as part of the zoo's celebration of the lively Jewish festival of Purim.

"She didn't pull us as far as she is supposed to; I think they (are) cheating. We need a rematch," demanded team player Kellen McCarthy after losing the first round.

He got his rematch and lost, and then lost again.

Even the cheering crowd and the theme music from "Rocky" didn't help the Jerusalem team.

The 3-ton elephant was unfazed and nonchalantly strolled down the path as if oblivious to the 11 burly players trailing on a rope behind her.

"I think we lost to the elephant," conceded McCarthy's teammate Will Solomon.

But in the team's defense he did say they were missing a player.