In February, the English owner of the two-football-fields-long freighter Oceanus agreed to pay the 700 natives on the isolated Pacific island of Satawal about $2 million for damage to a valuable coral reef caused when the skipper tried to maneuver out of the ship channel just so he could get a better look at the island's topless women.
Hitting the jackpot
Recently dismissed San Jose, Calif., police officer Johnny Venson Jr., 48, in jail facing 14 counts of on-duty burglary, was awarded a $27,000 annual pension in November by the city's retirement board. The board agreed with Venson that he had a disability, namely an addiction to gambling, which prosecutors say caused him to begin a life of crime as he got further in debt. Said one member about the board's decision, "I'm sure we'll get a lot of flak."
Home sweet home
In November, a jury in Westminster, Calif., convicted college professor Elena Zagustin, 61, of 69 health and safety violations at her suburban home, which is filled with trash and has no running water but many buckets that substitute for toilets. Neighbors of the civil-engineering professor at California State University at Long Beach have complained for years about the smell, the rodents and the insects, and in January, officials declared the house unfit to live in.
Stuck in the middle
The saga of the classic middle name continues. Indicted for murder in Dallas in November: Monty Wayne Lamb. Dead of burns in Miller, Mo., in September while still under suspicion for killing his wife: Robert Wayne Shelton. A 1989 early-released murderer who was featured in a Willie Horton-type ad in the 1998 Texas lieutenant governor's race: Gary Wayne Etheridge. Charged with murder in October in Prattville, Ala.: Morris Wayne Givens (along with his friend, the not-quite: Andrae Dewayne Barnett).
Chicago juvenile-court judge Fe Fernandez ruled in February that a father's fondling and tweaking of his adolescent daughter's breasts and adolescent son's genitals were not sexual abuse because such displays are culturally acceptable in his native Sicily. (A local Sicilian-American group disputed this; in September, Fernandez was transferred out of juvenile court.) And in October, Orlando federal judge G. Kendall Sharp gave only probation to two NASA engineers caught with child pornography on their computers, calling them merely "lookers" and not "doers." The prosecutor said this distinction is not in the statute.
In November, Donald Hieronimus, 46, was given a suspended sentence in Kitchener, Ontario, for assault; he had choked a man, but the victim was only his lawyer. The judge said he's not likely to attack anyone else. And Massachusetts inmate Zeferino DePina filed suit against prison guard Filipe Monteiro for harassing him; DePina is in prison for shooting a man in 1991, namely Monteiro, who was later hired as a guard and now refuses to let bygones be bygones.
After Laurence Peters of Long Beach, Calif., settled a former girlfriend's lawsuit against him for $120,000 (over his allegedly knowingly giving her herpes), he filed a claim against Firemen's Insurance Co., arguing that the sex was just another hazard that had occurred on his insured boat, like springing a leak. Firemen's rejected the claim, as did a judge and, later, an appeals court.
Salt in the wound
Thomas Macnish, 18, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against two former friends for dropping a hot french fry down his shirt, which he says caused him to lose control of his Dodge Caravan. He was badly injured after he stopped and stumbled out the door and one of his friends shifted from park into reverse, causing the van to roll over his leg. Macnish is also suing Chrysler for not figuring out how to lock the gearshift when the driver steps away.
In August, three men were sentenced in Oregon City, Ore., for robbing a Taco Bell. One robber was night manager Paul E. Armstrong, who was in on the job. In fact, Armstrong thought it would be a good idea for partner Jeremy J. Veenker to shoot him so it would look more authentic, but Veenker missed Armstrong's arm and shot him in the chest, almost killing him.