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Dead line



USA Today reported in November that a funeral in western Poland was disrupted when a cell phone started ringing from inside a grave; attendants had failed to notice it in the deceased's suit before burial. And a 51-year-old seamstress in the town of Stawold Wola, Poland, who reported for a routine mammogram in October was found to have four sewing needles inside her left breast; they were surmised to have migrated there due to her years-old habit of sticking them on the front of her apron.

Careful: Genus at work

The wood-products company Louisiana-Pacific Corp. claims success in changing its corporate culture from the selfish "reptilian" model to the nurturing "mammalian," according to workers interviewed in a December Washington Post report. Not only do managers and bureaucrats now routinely take responsibility for their feelings, but such line workers as a "burly machine operator" and a "trembling hulk of a guy" acknowledge that workplace injustices don't make people angry; rather, workers suffering the injustices "make themselves angry." Said one machine operator, "Can you feel your mammalian being unleashed?"

One false mook

Two British researchers told New Scientist magazine in December that they have developed prototype software that will assist in crime-prevention by monitoring surveillance cameras and electronically identifying, by image pixels, people who are moving around in suspicious ways. As an example, said one of the developers, someone awkwardly approaching a car is probably up to no good. However, privacy advocates were alarmed at the news, fearing that police would target people who are merely gawky.

America's most obvious

In January, two University of South Carolina professors released a study of high-speed police chases that concluded that pursuits are more dangerous the more cars that are involved, the higher the speed, the darker it is and the more crowded the streets are; they came to these conclusions using a "pursuit decision calculus."

Denigrated driver

Kendall Breaux, serving a life sentence for killing two bank tellers during a 1998 heist, filed a lawsuit in October in Thibodaux, La., against his getaway driver, James Dunn, for injuries Breaux suffered when their car crashed into a slow-moving train during the police chase.

Unsafe deposit

Police in Upland, Calif., charged Darlene Bourk, 31, with the murder of her husband, Robert, and said she had covered up the crime for three years by stuffing his body in a wardrobe box in a rented storage locker. The scheme came to light in September when Bourk missed her third straight monthly payment, causing the landlord to auction off the locker's contents (for $20). Bourk realized the impending catastrophe just a few hours too late, and her frenzied attempts to buy back the wardrobe box aroused the suspicion of its new owner, who called the police.

All at sea

In July, inexperienced sailor Richard Stewart and his family set out from Newport, R.I., on their 65-foot ketch and headed for Florida, where the boat was scheduled for repairs. After a friend lost contact with the Stewarts, he called the Coast Guard, which conducted an unsuccessful 30-day, 85,000-square-mile search for the vessel. In August, the disabled boat limped into Ocean City, Md., with the Stewarts completely unaware of the massive, $75,000 rescue mission. Three months later, the Stewarts set out for Florida again, and again became disabled. On Dec. 19, the Coast Guard found them near Cape Fear, N.C. The cost of the latest hunt: $38,000.

Narrow receiver

Marlene Hoffman filed a $1 million lawsuit in Georgetown, Texas, in December against the Dr Pepper Co., the sponsor of a college-football promotion that she didn't win. During a game's halftime period, Hoffman was selected to stand on the 50-yard line and receive punts from a kick-simulation machine. The prize was $50,000 for catching one ball, $250,000 for two and $1 million for all three. Told that the balls would come down in the general vicinity of the 50-yard line, she caught none because, she said, all three landed too far away: on the 44-, 45- and 42-yard lines.

Remains that don't

Bethel AME Church, owner of the Beech Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, paid Rosa Lee Bentley $27,500 in October to settle a lawsuit she filed due to the apparent misplacement of her mother's body. The cemetery said it had lost track of the body and could not find it, even after a long above- and below-ground search.

Colliding with the past

In November, a jury awarded Andrea Karlen of Milford, Conn., $500,000 for injuries incurred in what all parties acknowledge was a mere "fender bender" in 1991. Karlen's medical witnesses said the accident unlocked memories of her childhood physical abuse, triggering a case of post-traumatic stress disorder that subjected her to a major depression and panic attacks that necessitated at least 400 psychiatric sessions to treat. The unlucky driver/defendant was a state judge who has now been nominated to a federal court.

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