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Year in review: 2004

Contemplating our navels

This year's honors go to those Floridians who made us laugh - and groan - amid the chaos.

By TOM ZUCCO and CRAIG PITTMAN
Published December 29, 2004


  photo
[Times photo: Bob Croslin]

This year, we Floridians endured four hurricanes, a particularly nasty presidential election, the Terri Schiavo saga, a string of senseless shootings, and more stress and worry than anyone from any state deserves. By year's end, we had the collective energy level of a soggy boot.

But we also had a fight at a retirement home, a rigged bass-fishing tournament and some bozo practicing dentistry out of his garage.

This, after all, is a state where crooks misspell hold-up notes, a woman sees the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich and we can always count on our citizens to come up with new ways to amuse, confuse and embarrass us.

In that spirit, we present the 15th annual Sour Orange Awards, the most idiotic news from Florida in 2004.

Board up the windows, crawl under the sofa and read on.

NEXT ON AMERICA'S ICKIEST HOME VIDEOS

A uniformed Orange County sheriff's deputy was caught on a security camera urinating in an elevator. The videotape showed the clever deputy reaching up and pushing the camera away after he finished.

TABLE FOR FIVE IN ETERNAL DAMNATION

A Polk County pastor, his wife and three others were arrested on charges they used their church to sell supplies that had been donated for hurricane victims. The church also purchased milk and eggs from a local grocery store and marked up the prices, police said.

THE RON ARTEST HOME FOR THE ELDERLY

It started, Winter Haven police said, when Spring Haven retirement community resident Lee Thoss, 62, was picking through the lettuce. That disgusted 86-year-old William Hocker, who was standing in line behind him. Hocker told Thoss no one wanted to eat food he had been playing with. Thoss yelled and cursed at him, and Hocker called him a nasty name. Then, witnesses said, Thoss then began punching Hocker in the face.

In the buffet melee that followed, Allen Croft, 79, tried to grab Thoss, who bit him on the arm. Thoss' mother, Arlene, in her 80s and also a Spring Haven resident, jumped in to break up the fight and ended up with a cut arm. Harry Griffin, 92, was standing at the salad bar and cut his head when he was knocked to the ground.

THIS HAPPENED TO HER BEFORE . . . 600 YEARS AGO

Four security screeners at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport were charged with stealing jewelry, computers and other valuable items from passengers' checked luggage. Among the victims was actor Shirley MacLaine.

NOTHING THE MOTORISTS WEREN'T ALREADY THINKING

A hacker put an obscene message on an electronic traffic message board, shocking morning commuters in West Palm Beach. Because the prankster locked the control panel, it took several hours to turn off the sign.

WELL, THEY COULD'VE CAUSED SOME DAMAGE

Of the four hurricanes that hit Florida this summer, Frances and Jeanne came the closest to Miami-Dade, but toppled only a few trees. Still, Miami-Dade residents claimed Frances destroyed 5,260 television sets and 1,440 air conditioners, and disaster relief paid for lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, space heaters and cars.

YOU TRY LIVING WITH VANILLA ICE

Rapper Vanilla Ice, who has had a longer career as a comic punch line than as an actual star, lost a pair of his exotic pets when they escaped. Pancho the goat nudged open an unlocked door and he and Bucky Buckaroo, a wallaroo, made their break. St. Lucie County animal-control officers captured the fugitives after the wallaroo - a cross between a wallaby and a kangaroo - scratched a woman's car.

REMEMBER FATHER GUIDO SARDUCCI'S FIND THE POPE IN THE PIZZA CONTEST?

Diana Duyser, 52, of Hollywood, got some really nice bread for the item she sold on eBay - $28,000 for a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich that she believes bears the image of the Virgin Mary. The winning bidder was an online casino.

SO THAT'S WHY VOTER TURNOUT WAS SO HIGH

A Jacksonville newspaper mistakenly published the telephone number of a sex talk service on the front page on its election-day issue. The number was supposed to be for a national voter hotline.

WINNER OF THIS YEAR'S MR. SENSITIVITY AWARD

A manager of an Ellenton motel was charged with holding a busful of Special Olympics athletes at gunpoint after a dispute about where the group should disembark.

WAIT! WRESTLING IS SUPPOSED TO BE FAKE!

Prosecutors in Jacksonville dropped an aggravated battery charge against a professional wrestler accused of stabbing his opponent 14 times with a prop during a match.

HOMELAND SECURITY HAS DETAINED DAVE LENNOX

A suspicious package that appeared to vibrate forced the temporary closure of the state Division of Elections headquarters in Tallahassee. It turned out to be a harmless bundle that was being moved by air flowing out of the air-conditioning system.

WINNER OF THIS YEAR'S "MISSING THE POINT AWARD'

Police arrested a Belle Glade man for what they said was a hate crime. The man was accused of constructing a large, wooden cross police say was meant to offend the owners of a business next door, who are Muslim.

THE SMUDGES OF LIPSTICK PROVED IT WAS HERS

Rep. Katherine Harris, the former Florida secretary of state who oversaw the disputed 2000 presidential election, admitted she's responsible for a vote going uncounted - her own. Harris forgot to sign her absentee ballot when she voted in Longboat Key's local election March 9.

STILL TOOK SIX HOURS TO WIPE THE MAKEUP OFF HIS CAR

Barry Seltzer, a Democrat, told police he was "exercising my political expression" after he nearly ran down Harris and a group of her supporters with his car.

HARDLY A SCHUH-IN

Days before the August primaries, several thousand voter-registration application cards were turned in late to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office. One was for a voter named Charles Schuh, who was listed as a 30-year-old female Republican. Actually, Schuh has been registered since 1958, is 68, and is neither a woman nor a Republican. He was, however, mayor of St. Petersburg from 1975 to 1977.

HER NEXT STEP: CLAIM THE REWARD MONEY

A Callaway woman accidentally dialed 911 and hung up. When a deputy arrived to find out why Vicki Lynn Nunnery, 43, had called, he smelled a distinctive odor. A search disclosed that the three-bedroom house was one of the largest methamphetamine laboratories ever found in Bay County.

GIVING NEW MEANING TO "GOING POSTAL'

Instead of taking a boat across the Florida Straits, a Cuban woman airmailed herself from the Bahamas to Miami inside a wooden crate aboard a cargo plane.

IF THEY GOT A D, THEY HAD TO EXERCISE

Krispy Kreme offered to reward students in Palm Beach County with a doughnut for every A on their report card - up to six per grading period - sparking concern among school officials trying to fight childhood obesity. Another program had students decorate posters of doughnuts with "success sprinkles" when children meet goals.

SET UP LIKE FREDO CORLEONE IN THE ROWBOAT?

University of Florida football coach Ron Zook confronted several UF fraternity members after a fight Sept. 16 between the frat boys and three of his players. Witnesses said Zook threatened the Greeks, saying, "I will do anything in my power to take this house down." Athletic director Jeremy Foley called Zook's behavior unacceptable.

But it was Foley who called Zook and told him to go to the Pi Kappa Phi house to defuse the dispute. Zook was fired a few weeks later.

BESIDES, 1-800-WEAZELS WAS ALREADY TAKEN

A Fort Lauderdale law firm won the right to drum up business by advertising its phone number as 1-800-PITBULL. A Broward County Court Judge ruled the law firm's TV commercials using its controversial phone number and logo of a spike-collared pit pull is protected, despite objections from the Florida Bar. The judge said the qualities the lawyers link to pit bulls are "desirable traits in attorneys."

BUT THEY ALL GOT A'S IN APPLIED BUSINESS 201

Three Jacksonville University students were punished for installing a stripper's pole in an on-campus apartment and taking pictures as clothed female students competed for a $100 Victoria's Secret gift certificate. After bolting a steel pole from Home Depot to a plywood stage covered in red felt, the students charged $5 admission for men. Women got in free. Amazingly, the party ended when the beer ran out.

IT'S PART OF THE THERAPY, OKAY?

A Stuart mental health counselor ordered his two pit bulls to attack a group of people who were riding out Hurricane Frances inside an office building.

BASSININE

It took Ronnie Lynn Robinson two years to own up to his fish tale. In 2002 he won nearly $2,000 in a Lake County bass-fishing tournament. But when a tournament official gutted the winning fish, he found three 8-ounce weights in its stomach. Robinson was stripped of his prize, and this year he pleaded guilty to an unusual criminal charge: common-law cheating. A judge put him on probation and told him to stay away from fishing contests.

 
[Times illustration: Don Morris]

THE McBOMB

Three men exploded a small bomb inside a Lakeland McDonald's because they were angry over a bad milkshake.

THEN FLUFFY TWIRLED THE PISTOL ON HIS PAW AND STUCK IT IN HIS HOLSTER

A Pensacola man who was trying to shoot seven puppies was shot himself when one of the dogs made the .38-caliber revolver discharge.

AND CLAIMING TO BE FROM AN OCTOPUS' GARDEN

Actual correction: "In an Aug. 5 story based on information from the St. Augustine Record, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Ringo Starr had visited St. Augustine that day. A man who resembled the Beatles drummer was seen around town signing autographs."

THEY ALSO PUT HIM ON HOLD FOR TWO HOURS

The water meter at Bobby Goodwin's Fort Walton Beach home went unread for 20 years and he never got a bill. The two-decade mistake totaled more than $10,500. Goodwin told county employees several times over the years that he wasn't being billed, but they took no action until he recently tried again.

ME AND MR. CHOMPERS

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators following a tip searched a canal behind an Elkton home and discovered a metal fence pole that had been driven into the ground. A chain attached to the pole led into the canal, and attached to the chain by a dog collar was a 5-foot alligator. A woman told them she had caught the gator three months earlier and was keeping it as a pet, feeding it four pieces of chicken a day. She was charged with possessing and feeding an alligator.

 
[Times illustration: Don Morris]

ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY REPTILE

A Port Orange man faced battery charges after police said he swung a 3-foot alligator at his girlfriend during an argument.

CHANGING THEIR STRIPES

After a Fish and Wildlife Commission employee shot to death an escaped 600-pound tiger belonging to an ex-actor who once played Tarzan, the agency received so many death threats that its employees were urged not to wear their uniforms.

JACKSONVILLE: GATEWAY TO PALATKA

Jacksonville, site of the 2005 Super Bowl, was looking for a slogan that describes the city. Here are some of the suggestions the city received: Giant Cockroach Capital of the South, Redneck Heaven, It's Not That Bad, and Like Mayberry, Only Bigger.

RIDDING THE STREETS OF DANGEROUS CRIMINALS PART I

Elizabeth E. Milton, an 80-year-old Tampa great-grandmother, was driving home when she was pulled over in a random stop and jailed for writing a bad check for $145.93 - in 1985.

PART II

While vacationing in Miami, Hope Clarke was rousted by federal agents at her cruise ship cabin door at 6:30 a.m. and arrested on a warrant for failing to put away her marshmallows and hot chocolate while staying at Yellowstone National Park last year. Clarke said she had already paid the $50 fine, but a warrant saying she had not somehow wound up in a law enforcement database.

THE TIPOFF: SHE ADDED FLAMES AND A RACING STRIPE

An Illinois veterinarian who stole three show horses, spray-painting one to hide its identity, pleaded guilty in Palm Beach to 13 charges, including felony cruelty to animals, grand theft and burglary.

BUH-BYE

A US Airways passenger on a Miami-to-Philadelphia flight was arrested after she refused to take her seat, repeatedly ignored orders to get off her cell phone - which she said would be "rude" - and then slapped a federal air marshal.

FLORIDA POWERLESS

Miami police said Carlos Alberto Acosta, a landscaper, had approximately 200 customers who paid him $25 a month to activate a device he created that allowed about half of a homeowner's electricity to bypass their Florida Power & Light meter. Acosta's clients sliced an average of about $12,000 off their bills over the past 41/2 years.

NOW WE CAN KEEP THE TERRORISTS FROM MOWING THEIR LAWNS

A new military two-way radio system kept garage doors shut in communities near Eglin Air Force Base, forcing many residents to change the frequencies on their garage openers.

IS IT RED OR WHITE WITH NAPALM?

Two Fort Myers teenagers were arrested after they made a bottle of napalm and wrapped it in a kielbasa sausage.

JUST HAVE A SEAT NEXT TO THE SKIL SAW

A West Palm Beach man was arrested on charges he ran a dental office out of his garage. Police said Jairo Herrera, 60, told them he made more than $100,000 last year pulling teeth and making dentures, crowns and implants.

SOMETHING TELLS ME THAT'S NOT UNCLE FRED

A cremation service in Daytona Beach was shut down and its owner arrested on charges that relatives received ashes before their deceased loved ones had been cremated.

HEY, IT'S UNCLE FRED!

Two men and a woman hiding from police in an attic couldn't stay quiet when they discovered human remains up there with them. Daytona Beach police had almost given up searching for the three suspects in the house when a shout rang out: "Get me out of here, there's a body!"

AIR FRESHENER IS ON AISLE SEVEN, MA'AM

A Palm Coast woman drove from Oklahoma to Florida - by way of North Carolina and Texas - with her dead mother's decaying body as her passenger, and then went shopping at a Wal-Mart.

GETTING STRAIGHTENED OUT

Three heterosexual couples said they were turned away from a hotel in gay-friendly Key West because of their sexual orientation. The six were vacationing with a gay couple and had reservations at Big Ruby's in downtown Key West when the three straight couples were turned away.

THEN HE WAS CITED FOR FAILURE TO YIELD

A Tampa International Airport traffic officer allegedly ordered a man to move his car even though the man contended he couldn't drive. The nondriver then hit two women as his car lurched forward.

WHAT A CONSIDERATE YOUNG MAN!

A Fort Myers teenager who was charged with hiring an undercover police officer to shoot and kill his mother instructed the purported hitman not to damage the family television during the attack.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO TINY?

An obese inmate at the Okeechobee County jail was caught hiding crack cocaine in a cigar holder under a roll of fat beneath his stomach.

ALSO RECOVERED: A STRING OF PEARLS AND FIVE WATCHES

A Clearwater woman got one year of probation after she pleaded guilty to swallowing a 1.5-carat diamond ring at a jewelry store. The ring was later recovered in a jailhouse commode.

 
[Times illustration: Don Morris]

ANOTHER ROCKET SCIENTIST

Police in Jacksonville said Shannon Kramer's plans to fire a rocket out his car window at his girlfriend went awry when the rocket ricocheted inside his car and dived between his legs. The bursting firework burned hair and skin from his feet to his groin.

MY, WHAT HEALTHY APPETITES THE KIDS HAVE

A 5-year-old Miami boy brought a bag of marijuana to school and was sprinkling it over a friend's lasagna at the school cafeteria when a monitor intervened. Police say it is unclear whether the kindergartener even knew he was carrying the drug. The lasagna was confiscated before anyone ate it.

BUSTED, PART I

A woman who organized a topless protest of Daytona Beach's public nudity ordinance was arrested after she - and only she - exposed her breasts while marching down a crowded street on the last day of Bike Week. Elizabeth Book, 42, was the only woman who bared her breasts during the protest.

BUSTED, PART II

Chanting "Nature yes, biotech no, Scripps Research has got to go," a pair of environmental activists who had sneaked into a Scripps Research Institute luncheon at the Breakers hotel in Palm Beach stripped off their blouses. Scripps president Richard Lerner reacted by asking how he could buy action photos of the women to use on T-shirts. Really.

LATER, HE WAS CAUGHT UNSCREWING PARKING METERS

A teenager stole a luxury sports car, barreled through a security gate at Homestead-Miami Speedway and then did four laps at 100 mph before he was arrested, police said.

YES, DEAR

An 83-year-old Orlando man died after he lay injured in his yard for three days, ordering his wife not to call doctors.

SO WHY IS IT THE TAXPAYERS WHO GET SHEARED?

Members of the Florida House are eager for someone to direct them, "like sheep, in a way," House Speaker Johnnie Byrd said in an interview. At least one lawmaker said she didn't have a problem with that.

"I think of sheep as kind animals," said Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa. "They're just out in the field working hard for the farm."

THANK GOODNESS THEY LEFT THE BONG

A New York tourist called police to report that several items were stolen from his Key West hotel room, including some high-quality Bahamian marijuana.

IF HE'D TAKEN THE NRA GUN COURSE . . .

A teenager trying to rob a Dania Beach 7-Eleven was thwarted when he tried to load a rifle with the wrong bullets. A customer tackled the teen after seeing him trying to jam .40-caliber bullets into the .22-caliber rifle.

THEN SHE TRIED TO AUCTION A PATROL CAR ON eBAY

A Broward County detention deputy was fired after an investigation showed she pawned her service revolver to help cover gambling debts.

 
[Times illustration: Don Morris]

ANOTHER REASON TO STAY IN SCHOOL

A suspect was linked to a series of Gainesville bank robberies because he consistently confused the words "dye" and "die" in robbery notes given to bank tellers.

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

[Last modified December 28, 2004, 12:31:37]


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