Thursday, January 1, 2004

A year of weird headlines puts Ohio on the map



By Jonathan Drew
The Associated Press

Some people buy Beanie Babies. Others trade baseball cards. Ohioans were after different keepsakes in 2003, a year that revealed the state's propensity for amassing weird headlines.

• Few had a more stressful job in 2003 than fund-raisers at the "Draft Traficant for President 2004" campaign.

The staffers were told to raise $100,000 by persuading people to donate to a candidate who went to jail for racketeering and bribery - former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.

But after raising at least $10,224 in cash pledges, the group folded.

Belk said the group could not raise the $100,000 needed to qualify for federal matching funds.

• Dozens of women taking out trash and parking cars across central Ohio were ambushed by a nude cameraman who snapped pictures of their surprised expressions.

But House lawmakers got the biggest surprise when the chief suspect in the 39 attacks turned out to be their staff lawyer. Police charged 32-year-old Stephen P. Linnen - deputy counsel for Republican House Speaker Larry Householder - with public indecency and assault after they said they found a collection of incriminating photographs at his apartment.

• A man insisted he be prosecuted for his wife's failure to stop driving while she breast-fed their baby on the Ohio Turnpike.

"I'm responsible for what she does, and no one can punish her except me," said Brad L. Barnhill, 46, a minister in the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, founded by Christopher Hansen of Henderson, Nev., in the late 1990s.

"That's a fantasy," prosecutor Victor V. Vigluicci said. "I've never heard such a thing."

Catherine Nicole Donkers, 29, was sentenced to three months of house arrest for violating child-restraint laws and fined $300.

• An incident in July solidified the religion of at least one churchgoer in a northwest Ohio town.

A guest evangelist was preaching at the First Baptist Church in Forest, emphasizing penance and asking for a sign from God.

At that moment, the steeple was hit by lightning, setting the church on fire and blowing out the sound system.

"It was awesome, just awesome," said church member Ronnie Cheney, 40.

"You could hear the storm building outside ...

"He (the evangelist) just kept asking God what else he needed to say," Cheney said.

"He was asking for a sign and he got one."

Cheney said the lightning traveled through the microphone and enveloped the preacher, but he was not injured.

The service resumed for about 20 minutes, but then the congregation realized that the church was on fire and the building was evacuated.

• In November, a losing mayoral candidate was charged with assaulting the incumbent after the election.

An argument outside the home of Fredericktown Mayor Roger Reed became heated, police Chief Jerry Day said. Reed, who had been out picking up his campaign signs, called police when he noticed a vehicle following him.

"I've been here 25 years and this is the first time that something like this has happened," Day said.




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