TRACTOR-CUTION (Darwin Award Nominee) New York Joe, 20, was driving drunkenly through Wayne County farmland in upstate New York when he steered his car directly into a ditch and knocked over a powerline. Oops! How could he rescue his car from the ditch without getting a DUI? The only way out was to steal a nearby farm vehicle, and winch the car out himself. So he aproached the nearest farmhouse, managed to start a tractor, and motored over to the scene of the accident. With the utmost of inebriated care, he then proceeded to drive several tons of metal directly into the downed power line. Goodbye Joe. Hello Darwin Award.
A ROLLING STONE... (Darwin Award Nominee) Vietnam A rolling stone is not the only thing that gathers no moss. Three men scavenging for scrap metal found an unexploded 500-pound bomb perched atop a hill near Hanoi, and decided to rely on a little help from Sir Isaac Newton. After all, gravity is free. As they rolled the bomb down the hillside, it detonated, blasting a four-meter crater and sending all three entrepreneurs to a face to face meeting with their deceased hero.
NOT A SHRED OF SENSE (Darwin Award Nominee) The ambulance responded to a frantic call concerning a neighbor's trip through a tree shredder. It seems the individual had decided to prune his own trees, rather than hire a professional. Why not? After all, the local rental shop had shredders that could make quick work of yard debris, including tree limbs up to 8 inches in diameter. To save time (those fateful words) the neighbor placed the shredder at the base of a great oak tree. He intended to cut off the top third of the tree, since it had been damaged by lightning and was dead. With the shredder running wide open, the neighbor climbed his ladder to the first tree branch, stepped off the ladder, slipped, and fell. The paramedics found him very dead, half in and half out of the shredder's hopper, one leg shredded to the hip. Not married, no kids, removed self from the gene pool.
DESCENT OF MAN (Darwin Award Nominee) In one case during my 20 years on the NYPD, we responded to a "body in a courtyard" call and found a 19-year-old man who had obviously perished by falling from a great height. We ruled out suicide, and we eventually located an informative eyewitness. The man's younger brother told us that the two of them had intended to burglarize an apartment. His brother had climbed a cable TV wire to a 5th floor window and, while struggling to force the window, had lost his grip on the thin cable and fallen to his death. The brother panicked and ran. When I asked why they had selected that particular apartment, the brother looked at me disdainfully and replied, "Obviously they got a TV if they got a cable going in the window."
STEEL IS GOLD (Darwin Award Nominee) Czech Republic Steel is valuable, especially the high grade alloy used in steel cable. Scrap metal dealers do not ask questions. They pay in cash. And a good supply of cables can be found in elevator shafts. This particular goldmine was a towering shaft inside an empty grainery near Zatec, 40 miles northwest of Prague. The cable was tightly fastened, and the far end of it disappeared into the shadowy distance above. After substantial wear and tear on a hacksaw, our man finally cut through the strong steel cable. At that instant, the counterbalance, no longer held in check, started to move silently downwards, accelerating until it reached the bottom of the shaft. Result: one proud winner of a "terminal velocity" Darwin Award. R.I.P.
A BREATHTAKING VIEW (Darwin Award Nominee) South Africa Johannesburg is growing with the construction of modern new buildings. An engineer who was inspecting the framework of a building asked a worker to stand on a scaffold that was projecting through an open space where the glass panel would soon be mounted. With the worker acting as a counterweight, the engineer walked out onto the scaffold, checked the exterior, and came back in to continue his inspection. After the engineer left, curiosity got the better of the worker. He walked out on the scaffold to see what the engineer was looking at... The worker removed himself from the gene pool out of sheer stupidity. But one does wonder whether that engineer is blithely continuing to ask trusting people to act as counterweights without explaining his reason, and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake!
ON THE PISTE (Darwin Award Nominee) David, 46, was sliding down an Italian ski slope one night. It did not occur to him that it might be dangerous to sled down the same slope he had stripped of protective padding. Sauze d'Oulx is one of five villages which make up the "Milky Way" ski area in northern Italy. Hugely popular with British skiers, the resort is known for its party atmosphere. A ski resort spokesperson for Sauze d'Oulx said, "The men had all been drinking when they tore off the padding, and ironically..." ...careened straight into the bare barriers at the bottom of the piste (groomed slope). David died from head and chest injuries inflicted by the unpadded metal. Two of his friends survived with medical attention. A third Darwin Award candidate is still missing after he wandered away "bloodied and distressed."
CRUTCH, MEET CROTCH (Darwin Award Nominee) Russia Late one night, Eduard entered the apartment of a handicapped man, who slept peacefully as Eduard quietly cleaned out the valuables. Eduard was preparing to leave when suddenly the man woke up. "I couldn't believe my eyes!" The dark shape of some goon standing next to my nightstand!" recalls the burglary victim. "I cried out, and he attacked me, who was defenseless, with his fists! I had no choice. I hit him between the legs with my crutch! He leapt out the window! Thank God I live on the first floor, and he did not die from the fall. I didn't understand at first what had fallen out of his pants. When I looked closer, I realized that it was a testicle, a man's testicle! I put it in cold water, and rushed to the phone." The handicapped man dialed the emergency services several times, but "the doctors hung up on me when I told them I had ripped a burglar's balls off!" Half an hour later, the blood-covered thief was found by a passerby, who called the police. "An unconscious man was lying on the sidewalk," a police investigator disclosed. When the medics revived him, he started screaming hysterically, 'Give me back my balls!'" Eduard's genitals were so traumatized that doctors had to amputate the entire scrotum to prevent gangrene. In the hospital, Eduard filed a complaint with the police. He said "I will never forgive him!"
FRUGAL ("At Risk" Survivor) (11 December 2007, Germany) Being frugal can be carried too far. A 64-year-old man returning from Egypt was switching planes at the Nuremberg airport, when he was told that he could not take two pints of vodka onto the plane. New security rules prohibit carrying large quantities of liquid onto a plane, and the security staff was adamant. Instead of handing over the alcohol, or paying a fee to check his carry-on luggage, the man quickly quaffed the two pints. That much vodka can easily kill a man. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. He was soon unable to stand upright. A doctor was summoned. She determined that he had consumed a potentially life-threatening amount of alcohol, and sent him to a local clinic for treatment of alcohol poisoning.
BBQ KABOOM ("At Risk" Survivor) Tennessee A 22-year-old man was having a BBQ moment. John's friends needed charcoal embers, and John had the means to deliver: his trusty 1978 Chevrolet pickup truck. So he put his burning BBQ in the bed of the truck, and set off down the road. "Obviously, we would urge people not to drive with burning grills in their vehicles." Sheriff's Office spokesman Ted Denny said later. The trouble was, the hot grill was not the only item in the bed of the pickup. Hot charcoal, meet propane tank. The propane tank exploded and the Chevy was engulfed in flames. But John was lucky. Due to the quick response of emergency crews, the conflagration was extinguished. John escaped with burns to his lower legs. burns that will no doubt leave scars to remind him that few BBQ emergencies are worth the risk.
A SLIPPERY SLOPE ("At Risk" Survivor) UK The seaside town at the mouth of the river Yare keeps a modern lifeboat at anchor by the harbor wall. The old lifeboat shed is nearby, and its cobbled slipway descended straight into the river. The next stop is the coast of Holland. I was eight years old, and not afflicted by the degree of supervision that kids endure nowadays. That summer, a bunch of us decided it would be a great wheeze to take a discarded tractor tyre from the dump, and take turns curling up inside it while the others rolled us down the slipway into the river. The name of the game was to struggle out before the tyre reached the water. This provided several minutes of hysterical fun, until the inevitable happened. All hell broke loose as the lucky winner and the tyre rapidly made their way to open sea. The sight of the big yellow Coast Guard helicopter and its crew saving his ass went some way towards compensating for the pain inflicted upon mine by my dad that evening.
DEFINITELY NOT DEADLY ("At Risk" Survivor) Spain The warning stated, "Ingestion of 20 grams is potentially lethal," but a visitor to the Mycological Conference in the village of Badajoz disagreed with the official assessment of Amanita Phalloides, commonly known as the death cap mushroom. 45-year-old Jose Manuel knew mushrooms. He had spent the past few days collecting and exhibiting mushrooms. He began arguing with conference attendees. To prove his point, he picks up the mushroom and began chewing on half of it. Aghast onlookers begged him to spit it out, but he calmly finished chewing, swallowed, and went on to consume the remaining half of the poisonous basidiomycete fungus. Jose Manuel, clearly under the influence of alcohol, insisted that the next few hours would prove who was right and who was wrong. Indeed they did. An ambulance was summoned and, despite heated opposition, a friend finally convinced the amateur mycologist to get into the ambulance. It was lucky that his friend was persuasive. Once in the hospital, Jose Manuel started to show the typical signs of Death Cap poisoning: bloating, jaundice, and continuous vomiting. He spent two days in the Intensive Care Unit, before being transferred to a standard hospital bed. The major of the town visited the foolhardy mycologist in the hospital. Although the man was aware that his liver showed extremely high levels of transaminase, an enzyme that is produced when the liver has had to process toxic substances, he told the mayor that he is still convinced that the mushroom is harmless. Maybe a second try will make him a worthy Darwin nominee.
UNFINISHED PROJECT ("At Risk" Survivor) Any story that begins, "Well, I was building a pipe bomb," can never end well. Sam is a bright and successful individual with an appetite for building new things. Things like axles and pipe bombs. One Sunday, angry that the Broncos were losing, Sam headed to his workshop to build a pipe bomb. He welded a pipe closed on one end. Taking every precaution one can take when one is illegally creating high explosives, Sam was smart enough to let the metal cool down before he put the gun powder in the pipe. When he was done packing the powder, he realized that he had run out of welding rod. And so he set the half-finished pipe bomb on the scrap metal pile for later. Pipe bombs, like any other half-done task, have a tendency to stay undone for a great deal of time. That's what happened with Sam's project. He simply forgot about the pipe bomb for six long months, summer and fall. A few days before hunting season, Sam was loading his hunting gear into his pride-and-joy Ford Bronco, when he noticed that a shaft was cracked. Being an expert welder, Sam knew he could fix the cracked pipe himself. I hardly need to say more. Sam reached into his scrap metal pile, pulled out a pipe, pulled down his welding hood, and struck an arc. He remembers a loud bang and not much else. There was shrapnel embedded in the rafters of the third floor of his house. Another piece of shrapnel had blown through Sam's welding hood, missing his empty skull by half an inch. I still have the photographic evidence. Nothing good ever comes from the phrase, "Well, I was building a pipe bomb."
WORKPLACE FLING ("At Risk" Survivor) Australia My younger brother worked as a hand fitter at the Kalgoorlie Nickel Smelter. He was laughing so hard telling this story that he nearly wet himself. One piece of heavy machinery at the smelter is a screw feeder, a large cast-iron tube with an Archimedean screw inside. As the screw turns, it transports chunks of ore along its length. One of the drawbacks to the design is that it can, and does, jam if ore gets wedged between the edge of the screw and the casing. When a jam occurs, correct procedure is... what? That's right, shut the feeder down, open a hatch in the casing, and use a pry bar to dislodge the jam. Then start the machinery back up. Incorrect procedure, as demonstrated by my brother's co-worker, is to take a six-foot jimmy bar and bash the side of the casing in an effort to dislodge the jam. This is a bad idea because cast iron can fracture if abused. But the screw feeder is a rugged piece of equipment. It survived the bashing. Our anti-hero then opens the inspection panel whilst the feeder is running. He spots the jam and dislodges it with the same six-foot jimmy bar. Did I mention that the feeder is still running? Did I mention that it's a large, rugged piece of equipment? The screw grabs the end of the jimmy bar and whips it around violently. The free end of the bar intersects our man's testicles. He lands in a crumpled, semi-conscious heap ten feet away from the now free-running feeder. Fortunately for him, the mangled bar misses him when it is flung free of the feeder moments later. Otherwise this story would have a more somber ending. The unfortunate worker sustained injuries to his genitalia that necessitated a hospital stay. And worse, he put an end to the smelter's accident-free run in a public and highly amusing fashion. His pride was as crushed as his testicles. Almost.
MEXICAN DIVORCE ("At Risk" Survivor) I was travelling in Mexico with my then wife. Like many young hands, we were in a VW van equipped with a potty to provide for our fussy American preference for sanitation and privacy. We had been quibbling all day, due to the stifling heat and humidity of the sea level jungle in which we had been camping. We took the road toward Mexico City, hoping that higher elevation would gain us some relief from the tropical heat. On a switchback road several thousand feet above sea level, my dear wife announced the need to use the convenience, and lurched toward the rear of the van. I suggested that she wait until I could pull over, but she was resolute in her determination to attend to matters promptly. From the back, I heard her irritable voice say, "Why's this sodding potty rocking?" I pondered, and realized that the potty was under pressure! It had been last used at sea level, and we had gained significant elevation. The bottom of the potty was bowed with pressure, causing the rocking. And, to my good wife's impending grief and mortification, the potty was nearly full. A beat too late, I called back, "Honey don't flush..." I was interrupted by a mighty "WHOOSH" and a slurpy noise. Then silence. Then a horrible stench, and the unhappy sounds of my dear bride cursing like a Liverpool longshoreman. In the rear view mirror, I saw that the interior of the van was dripping with brown fluid. Since she had to face the potty to flush it, and since she hadn't put the lid down, my hapless wife had taken the full blast from the pressurized holding tank. She looked like Al Jolson in blackface. Convulsed with laughter which was the proximate cause of our subsequent marital decline, I pulled over. My soon-to-be-ex lady marched down the highway cursing and dripping. When I recovered my composure, I cleaned the van and picked up my luckless hitch-hiking wife. Our conversation was limited over the next few days, and never regained it's former gaiety and charm. That pressurized potty took us out of the gene pool.
MOLTEN COPPER SHOWER ("At Risk" Survivor) Police in England are hunting for a badly scorched would-be copper thief after finding a hacksaw embedded in an 11,000 volt power cable. The thief also left a lit blow torch at the scene, is presumed to be badly charred, and not the brightest bulb in the socket. Copper prices have more than doubled in the last four years, sparking a wave of copper thefts across the globe. Thieves targeting copper wire and copper pipes have suffered many fatalities and serious injuries. "The sheer stupidity of cutting through power cables should be glaringly obvious to everyone," said a spokesperson for the power company. "At the very least, it would have created an almighty bang and showered him with molten copper." 800 customers were left without power for several hours.