Undignified Deaths | News of the Weird | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Undignified Deaths 

Power of Precedent, Breakthroughs in Science, Ironies and Fine Points of the Law

Pin It
click to enlarge news_newsoftheweird1-1-deaa217552abffa3.jpg

The Power of Precedent
Department of Veterans Affairs employee Elizabeth Rivera Rivera, 39, was fired after her arrest (followed by a February guilty plea) for armed robbery, but when she was sentenced only to probation, an arbitrator ordered the VA to rehire her—and give her back pay she "earned" while sitting in jail awaiting trial. (She had been the driver for a man arrested for a street robbery in San Juan, Puerto Rico.) Rivera's union had demanded the reinstatement without salary penalty—for "fairness"—because the same Puerto Rico VA office had earlier hired a convicted sex offender, and the office's hospital director, recently charged with DUI and drug possession, avoided VA discipline because of technicalities about the traffic stop.

Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle
Turmoil in Selma, Ala., March 1965: The historic "Bloody Sunday" at the Edmund Pettus Bridge ultimately became a turning point in the battle for voting rights. Turmoil in Selma, Ala., March 2016: The town is riven by demands for stricter enforcement of the ordinance requiring horses on the street to be wearing diapers—a campaign led by Ward 8's Councilman Michael Johnson (an African-American): "I'm tired of it because there's other things I could be doing than dealing with horses."

Compelling Explanations
Ms. Ashton Barton, 33, charged with shoplifting a vibrating sex toy from a CVS pharmacy in Largo, Fla., in February, tried for police sympathy by explaining that she was in a troubled marriage. "My husband doesn't want to touch me anymore," and "I would rather do this than be unfaithful."

• Neighbors of a loudly frisky couple in a Stockholm, Sweden, apartment building were so frustrated by the noise that they reached out to the country's health minister, Gabriel Wikstrom—who took the side of the randy couple (according to a translation by Stockholm's The Local): "Sounds nice for them, I think. Good for their well-being and thus public health as well."

• Benjamin Grafius, 39, charged with several instances of indecent exposure to Amish people near New Holland, Pa., told police that he targeted them because he knew they would not use phones to call police (March).

• Valerie Godbout, 33, visiting Orlando from Montreal and charged with drug possession after alerting police with erratic driving, told the officer that she was on the wrong side of the road because that's the way traffic works in Canada. (It's not.)

• Emily Davis, 21, caught by police displaying her recently deceased grandmother's handicap-parking badge, explained that she was merely "using it in her honor."

Breakthroughs in Science
German researchers, publishing in March, revealed that female burying beetles uniquely discourage their mates from pestering them for sex after birth—thus explaining how the male of this species is observed actually helping with child care. The females apparently release a chemical "anti-aphrodisiac" to the father's antennae. Said the lead researcher (a woman), "They are a very modern family." Said another biology professor (also female), "Burying beetles are super cool."

• Science magazine called the "butthole" "one of the finest innovations in the past 540 million years of animal evolution"—in that, until it developed, animals' only channel of waste removal was through the same opening used for food intake. However, the recent discovery, announced at a March conference by a University of Miami biologist, that gelatinous sea creatures called comb jellies can excrete via other pores, was labeled by the magazine as "stunn(ing)."

• In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that measles had been eliminated in the United States, but by 2014 Americans had resurrected it (677 reported cases), and researchers from Emory University and Johns Hopkins set out to learn how—and recently found the dominant reason to be the purposeful decision by some Americans to refuse or delay widely available vaccinations (especially for their children). (The researchers found similar, but less-strong conclusions about whooping cough.)

Undignified Deaths
An 86-year-old woman died in February in New Cumberland, Pa., when she tripped and got her medical alert necklace caught on her walker, strangling herself.

• A 25-year-old off-duty New York City police officer was killed on a highway near Elizabeth, N.J., in March. According to the police report, the officer had rear-ended another car and had gotten out to "discuss" the matter, then suddenly pulled his service revolver and threatened the driver using road rage-type language. As the officer backed up while pointing the gun, a passing driver accidentally, fatally struck him.

Fine Points of the Law
Joe Vandusen said he has had no contact whatsoever with his estranged wife for "16 or 17 years" and that both moved long ago to other relationships (Joe currently living with a woman, raising both his two children and her two, as well). Nonetheless, Vandusen's "real" wife recently gave birth, from another father, and, without claiming Vandusen as the father, filed in February for child support from him. In the Vandusens' home state of Iowa (like the law in many states), he must pay, irrespective of any DNA test (unless he gets an expensive court order to "de-establish paternity."

Ervin Brinker, 68, pleaded guilty to Medicaid fraud as CEO of the Summit Pointe health care provider in Michigan and was sentenced in January to 32 months in prison. He had embezzled $510,000 in "mental health" payments and apparently spent it all on a Florida fortune teller.

• Two of the three candidates for the Republican nomination for county property appraiser in Erwin, Tenn., in November died before the election, leaving Rocky McInturff the only survivor. However, he is ineligible for the nomination because he lost badly on Election Day by one of the two dead candidates.

Least Competent Criminals
Albuquerque police encountered Leonard Lopez, 26, inside a Chevy Cobalt car (that was not his) just after midnight on March 30 after neighbors reported a man screaming inside, flashing the car's headlights. A panicked Lopez was upside down, with his feet on the dashboard and his head and shoulders wedged under the steering wheel, hands and arms tucked inside his sweatshirt. He was charged with burglary, and police guessed he was probably going through opiate withdrawal.

Recurring Themes
Maryann Christy, 54, was arrested in Roselle, Ill., in January when police spotted her driving through town with a 15-foot-tall tree firmly lodged in the grille of her car, sticking straight up. She was apparently too intoxicated to recall where she "acquired" the tree or how many minutes earlier that was.

• On March 23 on Interstate 95 near Melbourne, Fla., two tractor-trailers collided, spilling their contents on the road. One truck was carrying Busch beer and the other various Frito-Lay products.

Thanks This Time to John DePaoli, Gerald Thomason, Stan Kaplan, James Seabolt, Russell Bell, and Jan Wolitzky, and to the News of the Weird Senior Advisors (Jenny T. Beatty, Paul Di Filippo, Ginger Katz, Joe Littrell, Matt Mirapaul, Paul Music, Karl Olson, and Jim Sweeney) and Board of Editorial Advisors.

Pin It

More by Chuck Shepherd

  • Playing the Hits

    Your source for weird news.
    • Jul 5, 2017
  • Friends for Rent

    Animals with affordable health care, an indecent epidemic, strange smugglers and more.
    • Jun 28, 2017
  • Too Far?

    Targeted ads, belligerent husbands, ghosting frogs and other weird news.
    • Jun 21, 2017
  • More »

Latest in News of the Weird

  • Awesome!

    A weekly roundup of international news oddities
    • Oct 28, 2020
  • Compelling Explanations

    A weekly roundup of international news oddities
    • Oct 21, 2020
  • Least Competent Criminals

    A weekly roundup of international news oddities
    • Oct 14, 2020
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Extreme Measures

    A weekly roundup of international news oddities.
    • Jan 29, 2020

© 2020 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation