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The Odd Truth, Oct. 1, 2003

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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.


The Worst Wrong Number

MORRILTON, Ark. - Police officer Sonny Stover reached out and touched someone - with handcuffs. The lawman recently changed his mobile phone number. He says he got several calls on his new number from a stranger who wanted to buy a "quarter bag." The caller ended up buying a whole lot of trouble, too. Police set up a sting operation, using an undercover officer and arrested Victor Purifoy. He's been charged with misdemeanor possession of pot and has a court date next Monday.

'God' Snipped From City Hall

SPARKS, Nev. - Just exactly who is blessing America around here, anyway?

Patriotic signs showing an American flag and the words "God Bless America" have been displayed at City Hall since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But city attorney Chet Adams, concerned the reference to God could be construed as an endorsement of religion and attract lawsuits, ordered that the signs be altered.

Using scissors, a municipal employee edited the Almighty out of the signs, which now read, "Bless America."

"Who is blessing America? Well, I don't know who is blessing America, but I think a court would say the word 'bless' is OK," said Adams.

"I hope I didn't exacerbate the situation," he said. "Maybe it should just say 'America' on there."

Adams said recent controversies - including the removal of a monument bearing the 10 Commandments from a courthouse in Alabama - make displaying the word "God" inside City Hall inadvisable.

"My experience is that people will sue for any reason under the sun because they feel it's their God-given right to do so," Adams said.

Some city workers were taken aback by Adams' decision, including Jan Holman, the employee who did the snipping.

"I just think it's such a sad state of affairs that we can't express ourselves fully because it might offend someone," Holman said.

New Record Set For Eating M&Ms With Chopsticks

OAKLAND, Calif. - Three minutes after Jim Hager started eating M&Ms with a pair of chopsticks, he was headed for the Guinness Book of World Records.

The 47-year-old Oakland resident gobbled 115 M&Ms in 3 minutes Sunday, breaking a previous record of 112 Smarties consumed by Kathryn Ratcliffe of England in December 2002.

The new record won't become official until event organizers send documentation to the Guinness association, including a videotape, photographs and written declarations from witnesses, but it seems likely he'll have his place in the list.

For his efforts, he received 25 pounds of M&Ms courtesy of a local candy store that sponsored the event.

"His kids were very happy," said store owner Wendy Winter.

She said the association gave very specific guidelines: Contestants had to use wooden chopsticks, the M&Ms had to be of the standard variety and they had to be carried to the mouth - one at a time - in the chopsticks.

Police Impersonator Caught Calling For Backup

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - A 22-year-old man was charged with impersonating a sheriff's deputy after he pulled over a pickup truck and then called for assistance when the occupants fled.

It appeared that Jeremy Lepianka of Syracuse had been posing as an Onondaga County Sheriff's deputy for about two years and had stopped motorists - and lectured them - on other occasions, police said.

"He told investigators he had been working as a volunteer deputy for about two years. He said traffic violations were his main thing. Hopefully, it didn't go beyond that," Lt. Joe Cecile, a Syracuse police spokesman, said Monday.

Lepianka was arraigned Sunday on charges of impersonating a police officer, a felony, and two misdemeanors: criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a noxious substance, pepper spray. He was being held Monday on $5,000 bail or bond.

City and county authorities were investigating the case to determine how extensive Lepianka's masquerade was. Cecile said authorities had circulated a photograph of Lepianka and expected calls from motorists who had been pulled over by him.

"We've never seen anything to this extent. It's one thing to pretend ... but when you call for backup. He had to know he was going to get caught," Cecile said.

Lepianka was arrested Saturday night. He told police he stopped a pickup truck that had run several red lights. Several occupants fled and Lepianka used his cell phone to call 911. He identified himself as an off-duty sheriff's deputy who needed help, Cecile said. Lepianka said he had one suspect in custody.

When Syracuse police arrived, Lepianka told them he was Deputy J. Atkins, Cecile said. Lepianka used police jargon "but something just didn't seem quite right about him" to the investigating officers, he said.

Police learned the truth about Lepianka after checking with the sheriff's department. He was arrested at home.

Lepianka told police he always wanted to be a police officer and got the uniforms and police equipment from his previous job as a mall security guard. Cecile said police were trying to determine how Lepianka obtained an official city police patch for his uniform, as well as the pepper spray.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

SPANISH FORT, Ala. - A man saved his friend from drowning Monday, then was thrown in jail for public intoxication.

Kenneth Hood, 47, said he and his friends were sitting on the western bank of the Blakeley River when one of them accidentally backed a sport-utility vehicle into the water.

Hood waded into the water and pulled friend Obie Jordan from the vehicle, taking him to the river bank and calling police.

Jordan and the driver, who was not identified, were taken to the University of South Alabama Medical Center, police said. Jordan was listed in fair condition.

Hood refused to be called a hero.

"He's my friend," he said. "He'd have done it for me."

He certainly wasn't treated like one. Authorities arrested Hood and two others at the scene - Kathleen Margaret Smithart, 36, and 44-year old Ronald Eugene Briggs - for public intoxication.

"I guess it does seem a little harsh," said Spanish Fort Police Chief David Edgar. "But if he and his friends wouldn't have been drunk, his friend wouldn't have been in the water."

Edgar said police had no choice because the three could barely walk.

"If we left them sitting right there and they fell into the water again and drowned, we're responsible," Edgar said.

Rare Mickey Mouse Paintings Stolen

LAS VEGAS - There's nothing Mickey Mouse about these stolen paintings.

The director of the Lassen Galerie in Las Vegas say two paintings featuring the Disney mascot that were lifted from his Vegas strip establishment are together worth nearly $800,000.

Paul Olsen said his biggest fear is that the crook may not realize the true value of "Seaside Romance" and "Sorcerer of the Seas."

"They're not just Mickey Mouse paintings; they are masterpieces," said Olson.

In fact, Olson said he hopes the thief is an art collector who appreciates and admires the Christian Riese Lassen paintings.

"Somebody that knows art will never trash it," he said.

The 30-by-20-inch paintings with vivid, bright colors took Lassen about six months to create in 1994.

Las Vegas police said Monday they hope alerting the public will prevent the thief from selling the paintings on the black market.

"It's not something he can put on eBay or go down to the local art gallery and try to sell," Detective Jon Morris said.