Friday, December 29, 2017

This Year In Florida

Yes, I live in a weird state.

How weird was the news out of Florida this year? So weird that the popular @_FloridaMan Twitter account apparently gave up trying to keep up with it all in mid-October. He hasn’t tweeted anything to his 387,000 followers since two weeks before Halloween.

But don’t worry. Florida’s largest newspaper has not slacked off on tracking all the wacky and wild news this year. As expected, 2017 produced a bumper crop of the bizarre.

Some Florida headlines became instant classics: “Man accidentally shoots self in road rage incident,” and “Possum breaks into liquor store, gets skunky drunk” and “Polk City woman arrested for DUI on a horse.”

And who could forget “Lawyer’s pants erupt in flames during Miami arson trial”?

Florida crime, as always, offered a bonanza of bonkers behavior. There was the Pinellas Park man who Googled “how to rob a bank” and then robbed a bank. (Apparently he forgot to Google “how to get away with it.”)

A woman in a bikini contest in Stuart was busted for bashing a competitor in the head with her high-heeled shoe (neither won Miss Congeniality).

A Merritt Island man trashed an ATM because, he said, it gave him too much cash.

When a SWAT team raided a home in the retirement mega-community of The Villages, police found more than just the meth lab they’d expected. They also discovered it was a chop shop for stolen golf carts.

Some of the best crime stories involved a seasonal or celestial angle.

In December, a Lawtey woman who was charged with stealing statues, figurines and even concrete benches from a cemetery was dubbed “the Gravesite Grinch.” In November, a woman was charged with shoplifting while dressed as a turkey. In August, a fleeing car thief got caught when he stopped at a hardware store in Kissimmee to buy a welder’s mask so he could watch the solar eclipse. In June, a Jacksonville man caught tossing pipe bombs in a dentist’s parking lot told police he was just warming up for the Fourth of July.

Love and its many splendors produced plenty of Florida headlines.

A man who was stealing a trailer in Cooper City stopped long enough to have sex with his accomplice. In Sarasota, a tennis match had to be halted because of the noise from a couple’s amorous exploits. In Fort Walton Beach, a woman told police that she attacked her husband only because he threw her sex toys at her.

Wronged women became something of a theme this year.

A woman donned a wig to sneak into a Palm Coast wedding where she spotted her boyfriend kissing someone else, poured a drink on him, punched another woman, fled to the bathroom and was then dragged out by angry bridesmaids and got into a brawl with them. Meanwhile, a Palm Beach Gardens mom threw eggs at her daughter’s boyfriend, then chased him through the yard with her Mercedes because he’d confessed to her daughter that he’d been cheating — with the mom.

Food often played a role in our news.

A Lakeland man was arrested for dragging a table into the middle of a crosswalk and sitting there eating pancakes. When a state trooper stopped a drunk driver in Port St. Lucie and asked her for her driver’s license, she tried to give him a half-eaten burrito. In Marathon, two men broke into a closed IHOP, cooked burgers and fries, then tossed a safe off the roof and fled — without the safe.

By far the strangest food-related crime involved a man from Bay County who was armed with a machete when he stole some potato chips. He was then pursued by four deputies and crashed into their cars. Those must be the best-tasting chips in the world.

Speaking of machetes, weird weaponry made the news.

A Micanopy school was placed on lockdown when a man threatened parents in the car line with a gun and a dead possum. A St. Lucie County woman used a Christmas tree topper to hit her sister. A Vero Beach woman attacked a police officer with an electric toothbrush.

Not all weapons functioned the way they were supposed to.

A Lehigh Acres man was asleep in a chair when his dog barked, startling him, so that he jumped up and knocked a .25-caliber pistol off an end table, and when it hit the floor it shot him in the thigh. A Plantation police officer giving a gun safety lesson to schoolchildren warned them that his Taser was not a toy, then accidentally Tasered a 10-year-old. A Jacksonville man sat down on a gun in the driver’s seat of his car, and it shot him in the penis.

Also in 2017, Florida’s highways continued to be unsafe at any speed.

In November, a man who caused a collision at a Clermont intersection told police he did it because he was so sick of seeing all the other unsafe drivers roaring through that intersection. Three Tallahassee college students caught doing 113 mph with pot in their car told police they were speeding because they were late for class. Police in Fort Pierce said a man jumped into a burning car, drove it around the block, stopped, jumped out, then fired several shots into it.

PS: It wasn’t his car.

Animals were, as always, a major topic for Florida stories.

A Clearwater Beach man risked eviction from his condo because of his devotion to his emotional support squirrel (and wouldn’t “The Emotional Support Squirrels” be a great name for an indie rock band?) Iguanas repeatedly popped up in toilets around the state. (Look for the Florida Toilet Iguanas to open for the Emotional Support Squirrels next year.) An Englewood family heard a noise in their attic and soon learned the source was a 6-foot boa constrictor — and that the snake had apparently been living there for more than two years. The Okaloosa County School District had to evacuate its headquarters because it became overrun with squirrels, raccoons and blowflies.

A Lee County woman, 71, was attacked by a 10-foot alligator while she was working in her garden. She fought the gator off by stabbing it in the nose with her garden shears.

And some things that happened this year defied explanation.

A Deerfield Beach family heard a loud thud, ran outside and discovered 15 pounds of Italian sausage had just hit their roof. No one could ever figure out why, or where it came from. A 45-foot sailboat washed ashore in Melbourne Beach after Hurricane Irma, hundreds of miles from its port in Key West, its only occupants a pair of mannequins. A sign language interpreter trying to convey information at a pre-Irma news conference in Bradenton produced mostly gibberish, including the sentence, “Help you at that time too use bear big.”

By far the greatest Florida news story of the year, though, and one of the greatest of all time, was contained in a small police-beat brief in this very newspaper, published in early December. The online headline says it all: “Florida man arrested after yelling about how terrible Florida is.”

You can’t make this stuff up.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  So has Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, and Marjorie Keenan Rawlings.

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