The Darwin Awards are an annual honor given to the person who provided the universal human gene pool the biggest service by getting killed in the most extraordinarily stupid way. As always, competition in 1998 was keen. Some candidates appear to have trained their whole lives for this event. Entries did not have the élan of some previous ones, but are a worthy catalogue of stupidity, incompetence and had luck.
1. In Detroit, a 41-year-old man got stuck and drowned in 50 cm of water after squeezing headfirst through a 30cm-wide sewer grate to retrieve his car keys.
2. A 49-year-old San Francisco stockbroker, who 'totally zoned when he ran', according to his wife, accidentally jogged off a 30 m cliff on his daily run.
3. In Buxton, North Carolina, a man died on a beach when a 2.5 m hole he had dug in the sand caved in as he sat inside it. Beachgoers said Daniel Jones, 21, dug the hole for fun, or protection from the wind, and had been sitting in a beach chair at the bottom when it collapsed, burying him. People on the beach used their hands and shovels to get to Jones but failed. It took rescue workers using heavy equipment almost an hour to free him while about 200 people looked on. Jones was pronounced dead at a hospital.
4. Santiago Alvarado, 24, was killed in Lompoc, California, when he fell face-first through the ceiling of a bicycle shop he was robbing. Death was caused by the long flashlight he had placed in his mouth (to keep his hands free) ramming into the base of his skull as he hit the floor.
5. In Dahlongega, Georgia, 20-year-old Nick Berrena was killed when fellow cadet Jeffrey Hoffman, 23, was trying to prove that a knife could not penetrate the flak-vest Berrena was wearing.
6. Sylvester Briddell Jr, 26, was killed in Selbyville, Delaware, as he won a bet with friends who said he would not put a revolver loaded with four bullets into his mouth and pull the trigger.
7. According to police in Windsor, Ontario, Daniel Kolta, 27, and Randy Taylor, 33, died in a headon collision, thus earning a tie in the game of chicken they were playing in their snowmobiles.
8. A seven-year-old boy fell off a 30m bluff near Ozark, Arkansas after he lost his grip swinging on a cross that marked the spot where another person had fallen to his death in 1990.
1. In Guthrie, Oklahoma, Jason Heck tried to kill a millipede with a shot from his 22-calibre rifle, but the bullet ricocheted off a rock and hit pal Anotonio Martinez in the head, fracturing his skull.
2. In Elyria, Ohio Martyn Eskins was attempting to clean out cobwebs in his basement. He declined to use a broom in favor of a propane torch and caused a fire that burned the first and second floors of his house.
3. Paul Stilter, 47, was hospitalized in Andover, New Jersey, and his wife, Bonnie, was also injured by a quarter stick of dynamite that blew up in their car. While driving around at 2 am, the bored couple lit the dynamite and tried to toss it out the window to see what would happen, but they apparently failed to notice that the window was closed.
4. In Betulia, Colombia, an annual festival includes five days of amateur bullfighting. No bull was killed, but dozens of amateur matadors were injured, including one gored in the head and one Bobbitized. Said one participant, `It's just one bull against a town of a thousand morons.'
Some more also-rans
1. Four people were injured in a string of related bizarre accidents. Jerry Moeller was admitted with a head wound caused by flying masonry, Tim Vegas was diagnosed with a mild case of whiplash and contusions to his chest, arms and face, Bryan Corcoran suffered torn gum tissue and Pamela Klesick's first two fingers of her right hand had been bitten off. Moeller had just dropped her husband off for his first day of work and, in addition to a goodbye kiss, she flashed her breasts at him. 'I'm still not sure why I did it,' she said later. ' I was really close to the car, so I didn't think anyone would see. Besides, it couldn't have been for more than two seconds.' However, cabbie Vegas did see and lost control of his car, running over the kerb and into the corner of the Johnson Medical Building. Inside, Klesick, a dental technician, was cleaning Corcoran's teeth. The crash of the cab against the building made her jump, tearing Corcoran's gums with a cleaning pick. In shock, he bit down severing two fingers from Klesick's hand. Moeller's wound was caused by a falling piece of the medical building.
2. A woman went to a poison control center after eating three birth-control vaginal inserts. Her English was so bad she had to draw a picture describing how she believed she had poisoned herself. A translator arrived shortly after and confirmed doctors' suspicions. Marie Valishnokov thought the inserts were some kind of candy or gum, being unable to read the foil wrappers. After the third one she realized something was wrong when her throat and mouth began to fill with sour tasting foam. She ran for the poison control center, only a few blocks away, where doctors were able to flush the foam from her mouth, throat and stomach with no ill effects.
3. In La Grange, Georgia, attorney Antonio Mendoza was released from a trauma center after having a cellphone removed from his rectum. 'My dog drags the thing all over the house,' he said later. 'He must have dragged it into the shower. I slipped on the tiles, tripped against the dog and sat down right on the thing.' The extraction took more than three hours due to the fact that the cover to Mr Mendoza's phone had opened during insertion. He was a real trooper during the entire episode,' said Dr Dennis Crobe. 'Tony just cracked jokes and really seemed to be enjoying himself. 'three times during the extraction his phone rang and each time he made jokes about it that had us rolling on the floor. By the time he finished, we really did expect to find an answering machine in there.'
4, In Tacoma, Washington, Kerry Bingham had been drinking with several friends when one of them said they knew a person who had bungee-jumped from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in the middle of traffic. The conversation grew more heated and at least 10 men trooped along the walkway of the bridge at 4.30am. Upon arrival at the midpoint of the bridge, they discovered that no one had brought a bungee rope. Bingham, who had continued drinking, volunteered and pointed out that a coil of lineman's cable lay nearby. One end of the cable was secured around Bingham's leg and the other end was tied to the bridge. His fall lasted 12 m before the cable tightened and tore his foot off at the ankle. He miraculously survived his fall into the icy river and was rescued by two nearby fishermen. 'All I can say,' said Bingham, 'is that God was watching out for me on that night. There's just no other explanation for it.' Bingham's foot was never located.
5. Also in the state of Washington, a Bremerton couple, Christopher and Emily Coulter, were engaging in bondage games when Christopher suggested spreading peanut butter on his genitals and letting Rudy, their Irish setter, lick them clean. Sadly, Rudy lost control and began tearing at Christopher's penis and testicles. Rudy refused to obey commands and a panicked Emily threw a large bottle of perfume at the dog. The bottle broke, covering the dog and Christopher with perfume. Startled, Rudy leaped back and tore away Christopher's penis. While trying to get her unconscious husband in the car to take him to hospital, Emily fell twice, injuring her wrist and ankle. Christopher's penis was in a Styrofoam ice cooler. 'Chris is just plain lucky,' said the surgeon who spent eight hours reattaching the penis. 'Believe it or not, the perfume turned out to be very fortuitous. The high alcohol content, which must have been excruciatingly painful, helped sterilize the wound. Also, aside from it being removed, the damage cause by the dog's teeth to the penis is minimal. It's really a very stringy piece of flesh.' Mr Coulter stands an excellent chance of regaining the use of his limb and Washington animal control has no plans to seize Rudy.
~ The winner ~
And the overwhelming winner is... Friedrich Riesfeldt. An overzealous zookeeper in Paderborn, Germany, who fed his constipated elephant, Stefan, 22 doses of animal laxative and more than a bushel of berries, figs and prunes before the plugged-up pachyderm finally let fly and suffocated the keeper under 100 kg of excrement. Investigators say the ill-fated Friedrich, 46, was attempting to give the ailing elephant an olive oil enema when the relieved beast unloaded on him like a dump truck full of mud. 'The sheer force of the elephant's unexpected defecation knocked Mr Riesfeldt to the ground where he struck his head on a rock and lay unconscious as the elephant continued to evacuate his bowels on top of him,' said flabbergasted Paderborn police detective Erik Dern. (Cops speak funny in Germany too!) 'With no one there to help him, he lay under all that dung for at least an hour before he was discovered.'