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In December, as France was on the verge of formally repealing its 88-year-old system of local funeral-service monopolies, Michel Leclerc was speeding up the process by opening his latest funeral-service "supermarket" in Creteil. "Here, people can take a cart and do their shopping," Leclerc said of his store, which offers many models of caskets, headstones, plastic flowers, and other accessories, all at "sale prices," with upbeat background music piped in from local radio stations.

The Litigious Society

James "Scott" Hooper, a student at Oklahoma State University, had his lawsuit against Pizza Shuttle tossed out by a court in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in October. He had sued for $7 because his pizza, which he mistakenly ate part of, came with the wrong toppings. Hooper said he turned down an out-of-court settlement of a $4-off coupon.

In October a federal appeals court upheld a $325,000 jury award to Robert Fischer, who had claimed that an electric shock he received from a Pepsi machine in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1987 had left him impotent. Fischer's wife was awarded $35,000 for loss of services.

In 1989 a high school in Union Bridge, Maryland, permitted a female student, Tawana Hammond, 17, to try out for its football team under the pressure of a federal statute that bars school discrimination on the basis of gender. On her first scrimmage Tawana, a running back, was tackled and suffered massive internal injuries. In October 1992 she filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the county board of education for its alleged failure to inform her of how dangerous football is.

Attorney Ben Echeverria of Escondido, California, filed a $2 million lawsuit in August against Texaco Inc. and a local gas-station manager because station attendants were pumping gas at self-service prices for women but not for men. The station stopped the practice and forced women to start pumping for themselves.

In October the Illinois Supreme Court reinstated a $1.5 million verdict against the Chicago Transit Authority in a 1977 wrongful-death lawsuit. The family of Korean immigrant Sang Yeul Lee had sued CTA for inadequate warnings after Sang, who was drunk, was electrocuted when he urinated on the electrified "third rail."


Several white, Latino, and Filipino boys were disciplined in June for a recess "game" they played with a 12-year-old African American classmate at a school in Poway, California. They pushed the boy down and started kicking him in what they called the "Rodney King game."

In September third-grade teacher Lynne Strumlok was forced to apologize to students and administrators at the Delaware Elementary School in Syracuse, New York, for her disciplinary warning of choice. She allegedly would pull out a large pair of scissors, menacingly open and close them, and warn students that "Mr. Scissors" would cut out their tongues. A colleague, Joanne Herschkorn, allegedly told her class Mr. Scissors would take their tongues first, then their livers.

A 13-year-old boy in West Milford, New Jersey, was arrested at the Macopin School in September and charged with selling marijuana laced with poison ivy to a classmate. Because poison ivy causes tissue to swell, it could have been fatal to people with allergies.

Antonio Castro Jr., 45, and his wife, Renee LaSalle, pleaded guilty in November to defrauding the Globe, the Star, and the National Enquirer by selling them 547 phony tips on celebrity gossip over a four-year period.

The Weirdo-American Community

Patrick Foley, 42, was arrested in Redwood City, California, in November and charged with arson. He admitted to starting 42 grass fires in the area because, he said, "voices from the church" created a pain in his back that could only be alleviated by setting the fires.

Least Competent Person

Christopher A. Shutt, 17, was arrested for attempted robbery in Cortland, New York, in October after putting a gun to the head of a clerk in a meat market. The clerk told police that she had seen something "fly past my face." It was the barrel of Shutt's gun. Another employee noticed that the barrel had fallen off and approached Shutt, whereupon Shutt aimed what was left of the gun at him and told him to get against the wall. At that point the employee disarmed Shutt and called the police.

The Diminishing Value of Life

Police in Queens, New York, charged Samuel Saelmeron, 17, with the stabbing death of his cousin, Victor, 16, in November. The two worked together at the Bayside Diner as dishwashers, and witnesses said Samuel thought Victor wasn't doing his share of work.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.


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