Cops Make Major Hibiscus Bust

Texas cops thought they'd made a major drug bust when they raided a home northwest of Houston last Tuesday. After all, it looked like there were huge marijuana plants growing in the front yard.

"All of a sudden, they burst in with their guns loaded, pointing at me, screaming, 'Get on the floor! Get on the floor!'" northwest Harris County resident Blair Davis told KHOU-TV.

It turns out the tall plants with the narrow leaves arranged in a fan pattern weren't pot plants at all, but specimens of Texas Star hibiscus (search), which Davis grows for his landscaping business.

That didn't convince the 10 or so members of the Harris County Organized Crime Unit (search) who stormed around the house.

"I just put my head down, shook it and said: 'Guys, you are making a terrible mistake. That is Texas Star hibiscus, not marijuana,'" Davis told the TV station. "They just told me to shut up."

At one point, the officers discussed whether the bamboo in the window might be the demon weed as well, Davis told the Houston Chronicle. They also asked him what he planned to do with the watermelons and cantaloupes growing out back.

"What would I do with them?" Davis said he responded.

It turned out a concerned citizen had seen the native Texas plant, which has little white flowers and smooth green leaves — marijuana has rough leaves and dense flowering buds — in the yard and tipped off the authorities.

"My guys went out there, and they looked at the plants and stuff, and they believed them to be marijuana," Lt. Dan Webb told KHOU-TV.

After about an hour, the officers decided the search was over. They gave Davis a "citizen's information card" with the words "closed-report" written on it.

"No apology, no nothing," Davis complained to the Chronicle. "I realize they have a job to do, but this seems a little bizarre."

Lt. Webb defends his officers.

"I'm sure it was traumatic," he told KHOU. "Any time there's a search warrant served at your house, there's gonna be some trauma involved."

Davis thinks the narcotics officers might need a little more training.

"If they don't know what a marijuana plant looks like, maybe they should bring a picture with them," he told the TV station, "before they invade a citizen's home."

— Thanks to Out There reader Michelle P.

About-to-Be-Parents Get Ticket for Hospital Dash

A Virginia couple, racing to the hospital to deliver their baby, thought they were getting a police escort — until, just minutes after the birth of their child, they got a traffic ticket.

Kathleen Siragusa and her husband, Tom, of Fairfax, Va., hit a typical Washington, D.C.-area traffic mess last month as her water broke on the way to the hospital, according to Internet Broadcasting Systems.

"The first thought on my mind was what came out of my mouth," Kathleen said. "'Turn on the lights, drive on the shoulder and go!'"

Pretty soon, a police car popped out in front of them on the shoulder.

"'A policeman when you need him, yeah!'" Kathleen said she thought at the time.

"'We need to get to the hospital. Will you escort us?'" Tom said he asked the officer.

The policeman said he'd call an ambulance instead. Kathleen said she couldn't wait, so they took off with the cop following.

Seven minutes after getting to the hospital, Kathleen gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

At about the same time, the police officer found Tom and handed him a citation for disregarding an officer's hand signal.

"The policy is to bring paramedics to the location," Sgt. Richard Perez of the Fairfax County Police Department told reporters. "There's no exception to the rule."

The cops say an ambulance, despite the traffic jam, would have gotten to the scene in five minutes.

"There's no exception that allows a motorist under stress to endanger the lives of themselves or others on the roadway," Perez explained.

The Siragusas plan to fight the citation in court.

"Did he think he was helping? That flashing his lights and sirens and telling us to move over would help?" Kathleen wondered. "I don't believe his mind was in the right place."

— Thanks to Out There reader Luke P.

Please Don't Feed the Fish

HONG KONG (AP) — A teenager found out the hard way that the fish were biting, indeed.

The boy reached into the water of a Hong Kong fountain hoping to scoop up a fish — then was bitten by what turned out to be a piranha (search), officials said.

The 14-year-old boy required three stitches to his left index finger but was not seriously injured in the attack early Monday morning, Housing Authority spokeswoman May Tham said.

A cleaning crew drained the fountain and found two piranhas — apparently pets that had been abandoned in the fountain at a public housing project.

Ming Pao Daily News ran a photo of the dead piranhas and one of the boy, with his left hand in a sling and blood on his short pants.

— Thanks to Out There reader Travis R.

... Or the Ducks ...

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — It may be hard to believe, but it's now a crime to feed the ducks in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The City Council has overwhelmingly voted to make feeding waterfowl on public property a misdemeanor within city limits.

The new law is an attempt to keep migrating birds from staying in St. Cloud year-round and polluting the water. One resident says some 300 birds stayed at a local lake last winter and turned it into a "cesspool."

If you're caught feeding the fowl, you could face up to a $100 fine.

... And Definitely Not the Monkeys

NEW YORK (AP) — A monkey trained to help a disabled man with chores bit a 2-year-old boy in a supermarket, authorities said.

The boy, Thomas Romano, was shopping with his grandparents at the Key Food store in Brooklyn on Monday when the monkey bit him on the arm. He was treated at a hospital and released.

The monkey's owner, Steven Seidler, 45, said the animal attacked after Romano pulled its fur. Seidler is confined to a wheelchair and uses the monkey to help him open doors and pick things up.

But Romano's grandmother, Helene Romano, said the bite was unprovoked.

"I'm walking into the Key Food, and the next thing I know, my grandson is like, 'Grandma, Grandma it hurts!' And I'm looking around and I see blood coming out of his arm," she said.

It is illegal to keep monkeys as pets in New York City, but permits are given for those trained to help the disabled.

'Suicide Bomb' Grounds Plane in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) — A Japanese man flying to Ohio was arrested after he was seen writing down the words "suicide bomb," but he was released without charge after explaining that it was an impromptu English exercise.

The 60-year-old man told investigators he came across the words in a newspaper and wanted to look up their meaning, police spokeswoman Alice Casanova said.

"He teaches himself English by reading newspapers," she said. "It was all just a miscommunication."

The man was aboard United Airlines (search) flight 1184 en route to Dayton, Ohio, on a business trip Sunday when a fellow passenger spotted the words and alerted an attendant, Casanova said.

The flight returned to O'Hare International Airport (search), where the man was taken into custody and all of the other 120 passengers were taken off the plane and rescreened.

Investigators also searched the plane.

"Nothing panned out and he was released," Casanova said.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said travelers need to be mindful of how they behave on airplanes because potential security threats are treated very seriously.

"We caution people not to write about bombs because if they're going on vacation, their travel plans will be disrupted," she said.

Mystery Candidate Leaves as Quietly as He Arrived

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — No one has ever seen or spoken to the Democratic nominee for California's 63rd Assembly District. Now, the mystery man has dropped out of the race as mysteriously as he joined it.

D'Andre McNamee ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination on the March ballot, picking up 16,987 votes. McNamee himself did not vote.

Before that, he garnered 40 signatures for his nomination papers. His $900 filing fee was paid for by the state Democratic Central Committee, the San Bernardino County Sun newspaper reported last week.

But spokesmen for the state and county parties said they have never met McNamee and know little about his candidacy. One official even sent along a Christmas card, which went unanswered.

"Due to family and business concerns, as well as the reality that it will be impossible for a Democrat to win, I am dropping out of the race," McNamee said in a press release. The release was issued by a man claiming to be a friend of his.

The statement said the candidate is 31 and co-owns McNamee Trucking in Ontario. But the company's mailing address is in Rancho Cucamonga, according to the secretary of state's office. Candidacy papers for McNamee say he lives in Upland, but no listing was found for the candidate or his company.

The Sun said it made repeated calls over several months to a number on the candidacy papers. None were returned. Visits to the listed address proved fruitless.

McNamee's name will stay on the November ballot, a spokesman for the state party said.

Compiled by's Paul Wagenseil.

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