Man Sentenced to Share Room With Empty Coffin

A Georgia judge sentenced a repeat drug offender to six and-a-half years with an unusual roommate — a coffin.

"Some people may think this is silly, but I don't," Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation (search) told Brenton Jay Raffensperger, 24, last week in the Conyers courthouse.

"I want you to go to a funeral home and buy a casket, put it in your home and see it every day as a reminder of the deadly consequences of your choices," Nation explained to Raffensperger. "I want you to be reminded every day that if you don't change your ways, you are a dead man."

Raffensperger, who had been found guilty of cocaine possession and driving under the influence, could have been sentenced to 30 years, but will have to serve only six months in prison, partly because he had successfully completed a rehab program since his offense.

"I think he was duly shocked," attorney Jim Barfield said of his client to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, adding that Raffensperger "was fine" with the arrangement.

The halfway house where Raffensperger had been living post-rehab was willing to accommodate the coffin, Barfield added.

The young man's father applauded the creative sentence.

"I thought, wow, this is incredible wisdom for this man to come up with this, it was tremendous," Brad Raffensperger told WXIA-TV of Atlanta.

Judge Nation is famous locally for his sentences. One man was told to bury his crack pipe in a grave-sized hole, while another was required to keep a car he destroyed while driving under the influence in his front yard.

Other people have been banished, and two teenagers who vandalized a school got nine-year prison terms, according to the newspaper.

— Thanks to Out There readers Kris P., Gabe B. and Ryan S.

Burglar Wins Lottery, Goes Back to Day Job

It's often inspiring to hear about lottery winners who decide to keep their jobs. Not in this case.

Carlos Sola won $1,000 a week for life from the Georgia lottery in April 2002, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At the time, he was awaiting trial for taking $40,000 in coins and jewelry from a private residence.

Sola's first annual payment of $52,000, reduced to $34,840 after taxes, went toward paying back his victims, and the judge gave him a reduced three-year sentence.

Paroled last August, Sola apparently returned to his old ways, despite the guarantee of another lump-sum payment in nine months.

He was arrested in December for robbing another home and will be in the slammer until at least 2005. His second payment will be coming any day now.

"It's funny," Sola's attorney Henry Thompson told the newspaper. "But it's also really sad."

— Thanks to Out There reader Mindy M.

Waiter, There's a Mouse in My Soup

A Virginia woman out for an early Mother's Day lunch Saturday got a nasty surprise — a dead mouse in the soup she'd already had a few spoonfuls of.

Carla Patterson, dining with her two sons and godson in the Cracker Barrel (search) restaurant in Newport News, let out a scream, according to the Hampton Roads Daily Press.

"It was just shocking," said the Hampton woman, who ran outside, followed by several restaurant staffers. "Anybody would be shocked by it."

Other diners got up and left the restaurant — Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Julie Davis said six, a patron said about 20.

"As soon as the problem was discovered, we stopped serving the product," Davis said from Cracker Barrel's suburban Nashville, Tenn., headquarters.

The mouse, less than 2 inches long, was being tested to determine if it got into the soup at the store or was already in a soup package when it arrived from a vendor.

"I have to admit, it was good," said Patterson of the soup. She plans to hire a lawyer.

Dr. Bill Berg of the Hampton Health District (search) explained that health risks to Patterson of eating mouse soup were probably minimal.

"If it's well cooked, it's probably safe," he told the newspaper. "That's not to say it's a pleasant experience."

The Newport News store had received its regular pest control service on April 13, Davis said.

Davis said Cracker Barrel deemed the discovery so serious, President Donald M. Turner was involved within hours of the discovery to direct the company's response.

"I can't stress enough how seriously we view this," Davis said. "Obviously, the health and safety of our guests is our primary concern."

— Thanks to Out There reader Becky T.

Orangutan Keeps It All in the Family

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Despite a daily regimen of birth control pills, Merah the orangutan is pregnant. And St. Louis Zoo (search) officials are uncertain who the father is.

"Needless to say, we have a lot of unanswered questions," primate curator Ingrid Porton said. "It's a little embarrassing, I have to admit."

Diligent about trying to prevent overcrowding and inbreeding, zookeepers have been giving 35-year-old Merah a daily birth control pill mixed into yogurt and honey. Porton suspects the mixture either spilled or was swiped by her 8-year-old son Sugi.

The how is less important than the who, however. Scientists hope the father is 40-year-old Junior, a previous mate with great genes. They concede it could be Sugi, Merah and Junior's son. Merah has had liaisons with both.

"That's not uncommon in the wild or in captivity," Porton said.

Tests will determine paternity. Merah appears near the end of her eight-month term.

"If she is pregnant by Sugi, it's not the worst thing in the world. It's successive inbreeding that is a problem," Porton said. "But if she's pregnant by Junior, it's a wonderful thing."

Every Seventh-Grader's Dream Realized

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) — A middle school was evacuated Monday after a seventh-grader brought an antique artillery shell to the campus to show his civics class.

"Anytime you see something like that, you never know the shape or condition it's in, if it's a live round or not," said Donald Williams, principal at Robert E. Aylor Middle School.

A teacher saw the student with the shell and notified administrators, who evacuated the school and called the fire department. Frederick County Fire and Rescue Capt. Tim Welsh examined the shell and called in Army explosives experts.

Fire and rescue teams removed the detonation device, but didn't open it to see if it could have been live. The student said he opened it Sunday night and there was nothing inside, Welsh said.

The student claimed the shell was used by the Army during World War I, Williams said.

The principal said the student would be disciplined for bringing the item to school, but would not face criminal charges. The shell belonged to a relative of the student, Williams said.

Ticketed Driver Takes Sweet Revenge on Parking Meter

NEW YORK (AP) — A case of meter madness had some angry motorists crying foul.

A parking meter in the Park Slope (search) section of Brooklyn was located so close to a fire hydrant that parking there meant risking a $115 ticket.

State law requires that cars park at least 15 feet from hydrants — leaving only 12 feet, 5 inches between the meter and the buffer zone.

Only a tiny car such as the Mini Cooper, measuring just 11.9 feet, could have fit in that space; a Ford Taurus would have been about 4 feet too long.

George Akopoulos, 47, who co-owns a restaurant nearby, said he got a ticket a month ago but paid it to avoid a hassle. Others, such as Bob Restaino, 64, have unsuccessfully fought their tickets.

"This is a disgrace. I put money in the meter, went to lunch and got a ticket. I was parked legally," Restaino told the New York Daily News, which ran the story on the front page in Tuesday's editions after Restaino called the paper.

Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Cocola said the meter would be replaced with a "no standing" sign, which prohibits drivers from stopping in the space.

"We realize there was an error made and the meter was improperly placed too close to the hydrant," Cocola said.

Later the same day, Cocola announced the meter had been removed.

"We try to listen to the public," he admitted.

Restaino spent Tuesday autographing copies of his picture in the paper for neighborhood residents and fielding calls from the BBC, the British broadcasting network.

"I never actually in my wildest dreams figured it would go this far," he said.

Cocola said anyone who got a ticket at the meter should plead innocent and mail a copy of the newspaper story with the ticket.

"I think they'll be successful," he said.

Another Famous Seattle-Area Wedding Dress

LYNNWOOD, Wash. (AP) — Casting his fishing line into Martha Lake (search), Ryan Snow was hoping to catch a trout.

Instead he caught a wedding dress — and was relieved to find it was empty.

Snow, 22, of Lynnwood, said he initially thought he had snagged a log or something equally mundane early Monday on the bottom of Martha Lake in the suburbs north of Seattle.

Instead, he found a muddy white dress at the end of the line.

"I thought it still had something in it," he told The Herald of Everett.

He called his uncle Mark Snow, 50, from the shore to help and they finished reeling in the dress. Despite the mud and rust, some blue beads along the front and hem indicated its former glory.

"I'm sure it was gorgeous," Mark Snow said.

Neither has a clue to how the dress wound up in the bottom of the lake, nor did either of them care to keep it. They left it on a nearby fence.

Compiled by's Paul Wagenseil.

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