Monday, August 23, 2010

Extra, extra: In Other News, online

Posted by on Mon, Aug 23, 2010 at 9:00 AM

In this installment: killer hybrids, wine vending machines and feline-filtered legal negotiations.

Curses, Foiled Again
Police were able to capture a woman suspected of robbing two banks in Butte County, Calif., after she locked herself out of her getaway car. Witnesses said Laura Jane Murray, 48, tried to borrow a tire iron to smash the window, but when Davis police showed up, she began using her hand to try to smash the window.

Two uniformed police officers were ordering at the register at a Starbucks in New Westminster, British Columbia, when a man cut in front of them, threw a drink at the employee and demanded cash. The officers “looked at each other in astonishment,” Sgt. Bruce Carrie said, and promptly arrested the 43-year-old suspect.

In the Doghouse
Utah authorities said Ronald Charles Dallas, 32, faces charges for sending letters to his estranged wife’s cat. Dallas was ordered not to contact his wife, who is the alleged victim in a domestic violence case against him, but prosecutors said he mailed 11 letters to the cat and a neighbor while in jail, containing requests that the wife not testify against him. The new charges against Dallas include violating a protective order and tampering with a witness.

Fools for Clients
Two California men accused of defrauding homeowners by promising to eliminate their mortgage debts for a fee decided to act as their own lawyers. They were promptly convicted but appealed, arguing that their courtroom behavior proved they were incompetent to represent themselves. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco noted that Kurt F. Johnson and Dale Heineman filed “meaningless and nonsensical documents” during the trial, insisted on wearing prison clothing in front of the jury and delivered “off-the-wall comments,” such as Johnson’s statement to jurors to “enter a guilty plea for us.” The court voted 3-0 to deny the appeal. “The record clearly shows that the defendants are fools,” Judge Barry Silverman said, “but that is not the same as being incompetent.”

First-Amendment Follies
A Las Vegas company hopes to do what newspapers can’t: monetize their news content. Launched in March, Righthaven buys out the copyrights to newspaper content and then sues blogs and websites that re-post articles without permission. CEO Steve Gibson said Righthaven takes advantage of harsh penalties of the Copyright Act—up to $150,000 for a single infringement—to compel quick settlements. In just four months, Righthaven filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, its first client. Gibson said he’s just getting started, insisting there are “millions, if not billions, of infringements out there.”

Second-Amendment Follies
Miguel Rojas, 35, a sheriff’s deputy in Okaloosa County, Fla., shot himself in the leg during a training exercise at a firing range after he caught his finger in the trigger guard while trying to holster his weapon.

Stating the Obvious
A federal judge ruled that Coca-Cola’s Vitaminwater doesn’t offer the health benefits its label promises because it’s nothing more than a sugary snack food disguised as a sports drink and violates Federal Drug Administration regulations. When Judge John Gleeson pointed out that Vitamin’s marketing claims were false and misleading, the company insisted the statements were “only puffery” and not intended to be taken as fact. The ruling rejected Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss a class-action suit brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, meaning the case can proceed to trial.

Inappropriate Use of Baling Wire
State troopers investigating the crash of a pickup truck in Tulsa, Okla., concluded that driver Sam Sommers, 42, lost control of the vehicle after passenger Linda Woods, 40, leaned out the passenger side window to vomit. The door, which was secured by baling wire, came open, and Woods fell out, followed by a second passenger, Bradley White, 23, who tried to help Woods. Tulsa police charged Sommers, who was the only one wearing his seat belt, with driving under the influence.

Fear of Walking
Hoping to help the growing number of pedestrians who stumble into stationary and moving objects while texting on their cell phones, technology companies have set about creating applications that do everything from making a smart-phone screen transparent to transforming speech into text. “I don’t think we’re going to eliminate people from walking into things outright,” said Travis Bogard, executive director of a San Francisco company that makes Bluetooth earpieces, “but what we’re trying to do is eliminate the friction point—and give the user a little mental bandwidth.”

Hybrid vehicles are twice as likely as cars with conventional engines to be involved in pedestrian crashes at low speeds, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The gas-electric autos operate too quietly to signal their presence to inattentive pedestrians and the blind, who depend on sound cues, prompting calls to add artificial noises as warnings. Les Blomberg, founder of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, suggested that a better solution would be to reduce noises from loud trucks, buses and motorcycles so pedestrians could distinguish individual vehicles in traffic.

Sideways, East Coast Version
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has begun testing vending machines that sell wine in supermarkets. Stocking several varieties at optimal temperatures, the kiosks verify the buyer’s age by reading the barcode on a driver’s license and matching the license photo with a video image of the buyer at the point of sale. A LCB worker monitors each transaction to confirm that the video image matches the purchaser’s ID. The kiosks also have built-in breath sensors to make sure buyers aren’t intoxicated. Transactions take fewer than 20 seconds.

Vacation Bonus
A German administrative court awarded an extra week’s vacation a year to Münster police officer Martin Schauder, 44, who claimed that the 30 minutes a day it took him to change in and out of his uniform before and after his shift amounted to overtime. Schauder’s case was a test representing more than 120 other officers with similar complaints.

Reasonable Explanation
When police arrested Chance Wickham for using an ax to smash a pair of automated teller machines in downtown Gresham, Ore., he told officers he acted because he was under a lot of stress when he spotted an ax nearby and “made a mistake.”

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