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The Odd Truth, May 19, 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.

Woman Gases Unwanted Guests
VICTORVILLE, Calif. - A woman tried to get rid of unwanted houseguests by gassing them.

A family friend introduced the 51-year-old woman to Kevin Frye and Andrew King and she agreed to let them spend the night, investigators said. But the men overstayed their welcome - refusing to leave for six weeks as they allegedly sold drugs from her apartment.

The woman finally opened her oven's natural gas line in hopes of driving them away. But even an apartment filled with gas wasn't enough to force out Frye and King.

The woman called the Fire Department Monday morning, saying she was overcome by the fumes. She was so sick she had to be taken to the hospital, paramedics said.

There was no explosion and no one was seriously hurt.

"She said she just felt so desperate. For the last six weeks they were trying to get them out," San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy Greg Myler said of the woman and her 59-year-old boyfriend.

The couple told deputies they were too afraid of their houseguests to call authorities for help, Myler said.

Frye, 27, and King, 29, were arrested and booked for investigation of allegedly selling cocaine from the apartment and the front yard, Myler said. Deputies confiscated 10 cocaine rocks and cash during a search of the apartment, Myler said.

Dog Survives 35 Days In Death Valley Pit

TEMECULA, Calif. - This Shadow knows. How to survive 35 days in a 30-foot-deep pit in the desert, that is.

Stephen Schwartz, 17, was hiking with his brother, father and two cousins on April 18 near the ghost town of Panamint City on the western edge of Death Valley National Park when their dog, Shadow, fell into the pit.

The Schwartzs heard 10-year-old Shadow whimpering and tried to use a ladder from a nearby ranger station to reach the dog. But the ladder fell out of reach and eventually, Shadow stopped responding to their calls.

Thinking the cocker spaniel-beagle mix was dead, the Schwartzs placed an improvised wooden cross over the pit, said a prayer and returned home to Trona, a tiny town in far northern San Bernardino County.

But Shadow was very much alive, surviving on water at the bottom of the hole.

On Sunday, brothers Scott and Darren Mertz were searching for the source of a spring near Panamint City when they stumbled on the 4-foot-wide pit. Stopping to rest, the brothers tossed rocks into the pit and dared each other to climb inside. Then they heard barking.

"We looked at each other and my brother said, 'Is that coming from the hole?"' Scott Mertz, 36, said. "We were just horrified that there was a dog down there."

"We weren't going to leave without the dog," said Darren Mertz, 34.

Using an old hose from a nearby water storage tank, Darren Mertz lowered his brother into the hole until he could reach the ladder and climb down to the dog. Scott Mertz managed to grab a frightened and skinny Shadow and his brother hauled them back up.

High-Speed Chase Leads To High-Speed Birth

DECATUR, Ark. - Officer Jeannie Yates stopped a speeder and soon had her hands full - with a newborn baby.

Yates pulled over a car expecting trouble Saturday morning. Seven minutes later she helped deliver a baby boy.

Yates chased down a speeding car and ordered the driver, Chris Lyman, to show his hands. He said his wife, Amanda, was giving birth.

"She was having continuous contractions," Yates said. "I called for an ambulance immediately, then moved her to the back seat to make her more comfortable. She was as calm as could be. It was the dad I was worried about."

Yates said she gave birth to her first child at home by herself during a snowstorm and understood what Amanda Lyman was going through.

"I didn't get nervous until it was over and I was standing by my unit; then my legs felt like Jell-O," Yates said.

A minute before the ambulance arrived, Gabriel Patrick Lyman was born.

"My water broke and the baby was right there," Amanda Lyman said. "I had less than two minutes from the time I got in the back seat of the car before Gabriel was born."

Police To Investigate Bicycle-Trampling Elephant

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - The father of a 10-year-old boy filed a police complaint after a circus elephant trampled his child's bicycle, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

Dennis Horvath parked his bicycle close to the elephant compound at the Cirkus Mustang in Finspaang, 110 miles southwest of the capital, Stockholm, Tuesday to watch as the circus came to town.

While he watched the parade, one of the elephants in the pen used his trunk to pick up the bicycle for a closer look and then dropped it on the ground and trampled it.

When circus officials said they weren't responsible for replacing it, Horvath's father, Gyula, filed a police complaint.

But police aren't sure how to classify the complaint.

"We don't really know if it's a crime at all," police spokesman Per-Aake Olsson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"We'll investigate and see if the circus has done anything wrong. It may simply be a case of insufficient supervision of an elephant," he said.

Cyber Church Invaded By Virtual Demons

LONDON - Britain's first three-dimensional cyber church has been forced to tighten security after a slew of abusive visitors ranted from the pulpit and swore in the aisles.

The Church of Fools said Wednesday it has withdrawn the "shout" button, which allows visitors to address everyone who is present, and added more wardens, who use a "smite" button to log out people who use abusive language. The apse area, including pulpit, lectern and altar have also been closed to visitors.

The church said the first two days of the site, which launched last week, had been very noisy; in one case, a person logged in as Satan, entered the pulpit and started to blaspheme.

The church, complete with a stained glass window, gothic arches, pews, and a crypt, is sponsored by the Methodist Church and run by Ship of Fools, a campaigning online Christian magazine.

Church spokesman Stephen Goddard compared the difficulties with early problems faced by the evangelist John Wesley, who founded Methodism in the 18th century.

"When Wesley started off all those years ago preaching to the unconverted, he was shouted at, spat at and abused and people brayed like donkeys to put him off preaching," Goddard said.

Visitors to the church - represented by three-dimensional figures, or avatars - are able to cross themselves, kneel to pray and throw their hands up in worship.

There are regular sermons by visiting preachers, delivered in audio and text formats. The first speaker was the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right Rev. Richard Chartres.

Students Try To Tape Teacher To Chair

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Five Park Hill High School seniors have been charged with assault for allegedly trying to tape a teacher to a chair.

The students, all 18 years old, apparently thought it was just a prank, but they now face possible jail time and fines.

The Platte County prosecutor on Tuesday charged Joseph L. Blankenship, Dexter Briscoe, Daniel M. Ikona and Matthew T. Mayfield, all of Kansas City, and Trevor Hachman, of Weatherby Lake, with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. Each faces up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine.

"Neither the teacher nor the students were hurt in this incident, but this was more than just a senior prank gone bad," Platt County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said. "The fact that the students continued joking about the event, even after they were handcuffed and being led to jail, shows a distressing lack of respect for school and police authorities."

Court records say four of the students allegedly tried to restrain the teacher while Blankenship tried to tape him to the chair. The teacher got away before being taped and was not injured.

A Platte County sheriff's deputy who works as a resource officer at the school arrested the students after hearing about the incident.

The Most Expensive CD Rack On Earth

LOS ANGELES - A 320-year-old missing Stradivarius cello is back with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, having possibly avoided becoming the most expensive CD rack ever.

A nurse found the $3.5 million instrument made by master craftsman Antonio Stradivari lying by a trash bin - and almost had her boyfriend convert it into a CD holder, police said Tuesday. The instrument is damaged but reparable, a restorer said.

Melanie Stevens, 29, discovered the cello about a mile from where it was stolen, still inside its silver-coated plastic case.

Police Det. Donald Hrycyk said Stevens asked her boyfriend, a cabinetmaker, to either repair the instrument or convert it into a unique CD holder. She said she didn't know its significance until she noticed a news report May 7.

"I had the idea to possibly put a hinge on the front. ... He would install little shelves inside," Stevens said. "It would be a very elaborate CD case. I know it sounds crazy."

Its return was a relief for philharmonic principal cellist Peter Stumpf, who accidentally left it outside his home. Nearby video surveillance cameras showed a bicyclist stole it April 25.

However, detectives are still looking for the thief and have not ruled out any suspects. They plan an investigation before deciding whether to give Stevens the $50,000 reward offered by an anonymous donor, Hrycyk said.

The 1684 cello was one of only about 60 made by Stradivari in his Cremona, Italy, workshop. The philharmonic association bought it about three decades ago.