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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005 - 4:22 p.m.

Duped by the Darwins

Remember when e-mail was a new novelty, and all those forwards with humorous stories or actual headlines from real newspapers were hilarious and had people buzzing?

Well, some people liked them. What?

Then someone came up with "The Darwin Awards." Of course you know what they are, but while they claimed to be "this year's" nominations, they would seem to get sent around at different times throughout the year. Some of the "nominees" would be repeats, and sometimes the "new batch" came mere months after the last listings.

I got one again a few months ago. Curious, I went onto Nexis.com and entered keywords from the alleged story. Turns out it was bullshit. In a way, I was disappointed, because sometimes these stories are true and you want to believe them. But apparently, but you can't trust everything you see on the internet. Through my research, I was actually able to corroborate a few of them, but I found no convincing evidence either way for many of the others. Of course, the fact that a Lexis-Nexis search didn't turn up any articles on some of these might be an indication (I know, for example, that the San Jose Mercury News is in the database, but the story allegedly attributed to them never materialized). I also discovered that, while they were purported to be all from a recent year, they cover nearly two decades. Of the four incidents I found reliable backup for, the years range from the 80s to the mid-90s.

So here's the particular e-mail I got, with the four article clips that I found to either confirm or debunk some of the "entries."

----Original Message Follows----
[Makes you feel like you're reading an e-mail, doesn't it?]

Hard to believe, but another year has passed. Once again, it's time for the Darwin Award Nominees. The Darwins are awarded every year to the persons who died in the most stupid manner, thereby removing themselves from the gene pool. This year's nine nominees are:

Nominee No. 1: [San Jose Mercury News]:
An unidentified man, using a shotgun like a club to break a former girlfriend's windshield, accidentally shot himself to death when the gun discharged, blowing a hole in his gut.

Nominee No. 2: [Kalamazoo Gazette]:
James Burns, 34, (a mechanic) of Alamo, MI, was killed in March as he was trying to repair what police describe as a "farm-type truck." Burns got a friend to drive the truck on a highway while Burns hung underneath so that he could ascertain the source of a troubling noise. Burns' clothes caught on something, however, and the other man found Burns "wrapped in the drive shaft."

Copyright 1995 The Austin American-Statesman
Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

July 06, 1995
SECTION: XL Ent; Pg. 73
HEADLINE: NEWS OF THE WEIRD
BYLINE: Chuck Shepherd

James Burns, 34, of Alamo, Mich., was killed in March as he was trying to repair what police described as a ''farm-type dump truck.'' Burns got a friend to drive the truck on a highway while Burns hung underneath so that he could ascertain the source of a troubling noise. Burns' clothes caught on something, however, and the other man found Burns ''wrapped in the drive shaft.''

Nominee No. 3: [Hickory Daily Record]:
Ken Charles Barger, 47, accidentally shot himself to death in December in Newton, NC. Awakening to the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed, he reached for the phone but grabbed instead a Smith & Wesson 38 Special, which discharged when he drew it to his ear. (For whatever reason, residents of Southern states always seem to figure prominently among the Darwin nominees.)

Nominee No. 4: [UPI, Toronto]:
Police said a lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a downtown Toronto skyscraper crashed through a pane with his shoulder and plunged 24 floors to his death. A police spokesman said Garry Hoy, 39, fell into the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower early Friday evening as he was explaining the strength of the building's windows to visiting law students. Hoy previously has conducted demonstrations of window strength according to police reports. Peter Lawson, managing partner of the firm Holden Day, told the Toronto Sun newspaper that Hoy was "one of the best and brightest" members of the 200-man association.

Copyright 1993 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
The Toronto Star

July 10, 1993, Saturday, SATURDAY SECOND EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A4
HEADLINE: Corporate lawyer plunges 24 floors to death
BYLINE: By Bruce DeMara Toronto Star

A lawyer with a major Toronto law firm plunged 24 floors to his death in front of several horrified witnesses while pressing against a window in his tower office to test its strength.

Garry Hoy, 38, was a University of Toronto graduate who was called to the bar in 1979.

The incident occurred about 5:30 p.m. yesterday in the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower offices of the firm Holden Day Wilson.

"He was testing the strength of the window. There was a lot of joking about how the window wouldn't open maybe on a hot day," said Michael Crawford, the firm's spokesperson. "Apparently, it was the second attempt (at testing the window) that one of them popped out and he went through."

The fatality is being treated as a "death by misadventure," said a Metro police spokesperson.

"He was showing his knowledge of the tensile strength of window glass and presumably the glass gave way. I know the frame and the blinds are still there," the officer said.

Hoy was a corporate commercial lawyer who specialized in security law and mining.

"He was one of the brighter lights at the firm, just a super nice guy, a very generous fellow," Crawford said.

The building is owned by Cadillac Fairview. Spokesperson John Garner said a company official went to the building but no statement would be made until Monday.

Nominee No. 5: [Bloomberg News Service]:
A terrible diet and a room with no ventilation are being blamed for the death of a man who was killed by his own gas emissions. There was no mark on his body, and an autopsy showed large amounts of methane gas in his system. His diet had consisted primarily of beans and cabbage (and a couple of other things). It was just the right combination of foods. It appears that the man died in his sleep from breathing the poisonous cloud that was hanging over his bed. Had he been outside or had his windows been opened, it wouldn't have been fatal. But the man was shut up in his nearly airtight bedroom. According to the article, "He was a big man with a huge capacity for creating "this deadly gas." Three of the rescuers got sick, and one was hospitalized.

Nominee No. 6: [The News of the Weird]:
Michael Anderson Godwin made News of the Weird posthumously. He had spent several years awaiting South Carolina's electric chair on a murder conviction before having his sentence reduced to life in prison. While sitting on a metal toilet in his cell attempting to fix his small TV set, he bit into a wire and was electrocuted.

Copyright 1989 Associated Press
March 7, 1989, Tuesday, PM cycle
SECTION: Domestic News
HEADLINE: Inmate Accidentally Electrocutes Himself
DATELINE: COLUMBIA, S.C.

An inmate serving a life sentence for murder accidentally electrocuted himself by biting into an electrical cord while sitting on a toilet, prison authorities said.

"It was a strange accident," said state Department of Corrections spokesman Francis Archibald. "He was sitting naked on a metal commode."

Michael Anderson Godwin, 28, apparently was trying to repair earphones to a television set when he bit into the cord, Archibald said. A corrections officer making a routine check found him at 9:15 p.m. Sunday.

Godwin was severely burned in his mouth and tongue, Richland County Coroner Frank Barron said. It appears the electrocution was accidental, he said.

Inmates at the Central Correctional Institute are allowed to have small televisions in their cells but must use earphones.

Godwin was sentenced to death in 1981 for a murder and sexual assault committed while he was on work release for a 1978 robbery conviction, Archibald said. During a retrial he was found innocent of the sexual assault and was resentenced to life in prison.

Nominee No. 7: [The Indianapolis Star]:
A cigarette lighter may have triggered a fatal explosion in Dunkirk, IN. A Jay County man, using a cigarette lighter to check the barrel of a muzzle loader, was killed Monday night when the weapon discharged in his face, sheriff's investigators said. Gregory David Pryor, 19, died in his parents' rural Dunkirk home at about 11:30 PM. Investigators said Pryor was cleaning a 54-caliber muzzleloader that had not been firing properly. He was using the lighter to look into the barrel when the gunpowder ignited.

Nominee No. 8: [Reuters, Mississauga, Ontario]:
A man cleaning a bird feeder on the balcony of his condominium apartment in this Toronto suburb slipped and fell 23 stories to his death. Stefan Macko, 55, was standing on a wheeled chair when the accident occurred, said Inspector D'Arcy Honer of the Peel Regional Police. "It appears that the chair moved, and he went over the balcony," Honer said.

Copyright 1993 Press News Limited
The Canadian Press (CP)

May 16, 1993 Sunday
SECTION: QUEBEC-ONTARIO REGIONAL GENERAL NEWS
HEADLINE: Death-Plunge

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. (CP) - A man standing on a chair while working on his balcony Sunday lost his balance and fell 23 floors to his death, police said. The chair was on rolling casters and Stefan Macko, 55, may have fallen when it moved, said Insp. Ted Carroll of Peel region police.

Macko was doing some work around 3:30 p.m., possibly cleaning a bird feeder, when the accident happened at a 35-storey condominium building in this suburb west of Toronto. He died instantly of massive injuries, police said.

Macko's wife, who was in the apartment when her husband fell, was "traumatized'' by the accident, police said. Investigators found the chair and a rag beside the railing of the balcony.

Finally, THE WINNER!!!: [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]:
Two local men were injured when their pickup truck left the road and struck a tree near Cotton Patch on State Highway 38 early Monday.

Woodruff County deputy Dovey Snyder reported the accident shortly after midnight Monday. Thurston Poole, 33, of Des Arc, and Billy Ray Wallis, 38, of Little Rock, were returning to Des Arc after a frog gigging trip on an overcast Sunday night when Poole's pickup truck headlights malfunctioned. The two men concluded that the headlight fuse on the older-model truck had burned out. As a replacement fuse was not available, Wallis noticed that the .22 caliber bullet from his pistol fit perfectly into the fuse box next to the steering-wheel column. Upon inserting the bullet the headlights again began to operate properly, and the two men proceeded on eastbound toward the White River Bridge.

After traveling approximately 20 miles, and just before crossing the river, the bullet apparently overheated, discharged, and struck Poole in the testicles. The vehicle swerved sharply right, exiting the pavement, and striking a tree. Poole suffered only minor cuts and abrasions from the accident, but will require extensive surgery to repair the damage to his testicles, which will never operate as intended. Wallis sustained a broken clavicle and was treated and released.

"Thank God we weren't on that bridge when Thurston shot his balls off, or we might both be dead," stated Wallis.

"I've been a trooper for 10 years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can't believe that those two would admit how this accident happened," said Snyder.

Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia (Poole's wife) asked how many frogs the boys had caught and did anyone get them from the truck???

(Though Poole and Wallis did not die as a result of their misadventure as normally required by Darwin Award Official Rules, it can be argued that Poole DID, in fact, effectively remove himself from the gene pool.)

Copyright 1996 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR)

October 17, 1996, Thursday
SECTION: STYLE; Pg. 8E
HEADLINE: Paper Trails

Frog-gigging story makes the Internet, but not the newspaper

A frog-gigging story that reportedly appeared in this newspaper is winding its way around the globe like a chain letter.

Except the story didn't run in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. And from all indications, it's not true.

That's not keeping it from circulating the Internet. In fact, the computer network is proving much speedier and far-reaching than most chain letters.

Under headings such as "True-Life Redneck Story" and ".22 Cal Ammunition Safety Alert!!" computer users around the United States are passing on the following story (incorrectly listed as appearing in the Democrat-Gazette July 25):

Two local men were seriously injured when their pickup truck left the road and struck a tree near Cotton Patch on state Highway 38 early Monday morning. Woodruff County Deputy Dovey Snyder reported the accident shortly after midnight Monday.

Thurston Poole, 33, of Des Arc, and Billy Ray Wallis, 38, of Little Rock, are listed in serious condition at Baptist Medical Center.

The accident occurred as the two men were returning to Des Arc after a frog-gigging trip. On an overcast Sunday night, Poole's pickup truck's headlights malfunctioned. The two men concluded that the headlight fuse on the older model truck had burned out. As a replacement fuse was not available, Wallis noticed that the .22 caliber bullet from his pistol fit perfectly into the fuse box next to the steering wheel column. Upon inserting the bullet, the headlights again began to operate properly and the two men proceeded on eastbound toward the White River Bridge.

After traveling approximately 20 miles and just before crossing the river, the bullet apparently overheated, discharged and struck Poole in the right testicle. The vehicle swerved sharply to the right, exiting the pavement and striking a tree. Poole suffered only minor cuts and abrasions from the accident but will require surgery to repair the other wound. Wallis sustained a broken clavicle and was treated and released.

"Thank God we weren't on that bridge when Thurston (shot his intimate parts off) or we might have been dead," stated Wallis.

"I've been a trooper for 10 years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can't believe that those two would admit how the accident happened," said Snyder.

Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia, Poole's wife, asked how many frogs the boys had caught, and did anyone get them from the truck.

While Lavinia worries over the fate of the frogs, Arkansans worry where the story might have originated.

(There is no town of Cotton Patch in Woodruff County -- it's Cotton Plant. No Deputy Snyder has ever worked for that county's sheriff's department. And attempts at verifying the existence of Wallis and Poole have been futile.)

Could it have a been an attempt to make Arkansans look stupid?

"I accuse a Yankee of it," says one Internet observer.

No one has claimed responsibility.

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1998-2004 DC Products. All rights reserved.

Yeah, sorry I have to be all legal on you here, but unless otherwise indicated, all that you read here is mine, mine, mine. But feel free to quote me or make fun of me or borrow what I write and send it out as an e-mail forward to all your friends, family and coworkers. Just don't say it's yours, you know?