Strange but True

Plutonium lasts forever, but the radioactive fallout from 2002 should be mercifully brief. Don your Rocky Flats moonsuits and jump in!

An ostrich rancher in southwest Colorado was sentenced to five years in prison for growing 270 marijuana plants in a hidden basement. John Mark Willden, 41, was sentenced in April following an investigation by the FBI and the Southwest Colorado Drug Task Force. No word on the tipsters, but the birds reportedly kept their heads in the sand.

Residents of an assisted-living center in Littleton began looking forward to visits by Pisco, a llama. The animal is one of eight certified llama therapists in this country.

Two decades ago, cattle mutilations were the talk of Colorado. This year, a string of baffling pet mutilations -- cats, rabbits and the occasional squirrel -- have stretched near and fur in the Denver area. According to authorities, someone -- or something -- has been surgically removing the animals' internal organs, then leaving the carcass to be found near its owner's home. So far, canines have escaped the carnage. "Either they just don't like dogs, or they can't catch 'em," said one Aurora animal-hospital worker.

Quick, Call a Referee!

Joining in what's become a national frenzy, about thirty parents started fighting at a youth hockey match at the Family Sports Arena in Arapahoe County last January. The scuffle broke out during a game between fifteen- to seventeen-year-old kids, after one "slashed" another on the ankle and that boy's parents complained. The verbal exchange led to a brawl too big to contain in the arena's penalty box.

The Jesus Run, organized by a Highlands Ranch ministry of the same name, sent out a call for world-class runners for a June race in Denver. As a further inducement, race director Rob Sigmon promised to establish a marathon and 12K Jesus Run Israel around the Sea of Galilee. But problems bedeviled the local event from the start. One runner complained that the course was confusing, and others ratted off participants for running distances other than what they signed up for. And a top competitor, who said he was promised prize money for finishing second in a half-marathon, claimed he never got his $500 prize. Jesus Run ministries has since laid off its paid staff. It the race makes a comeback, it will be a miracle.

For the first time in the history of the 24-hour Aspen ski race, the December event tested solo racers rather than pairs of skiers taking turns as a team. So ex-Olympian Casey Puckett and other athletes took their whacks at Ajax -- again and again and again. As winner of the race, Puckett pocketed $10,000 and came away with a new appreciation for endurance skiing. "I think anyone who enters this race is absolutely nuts," he told the Rocky Mountain News minutes after completing the torture session. "I just don't get it."

It was a joyous year for Gary Barnett, coach of the CU Buffs. No, not on the gridiron, where the team fared well until it faced the really tough eleven from Oklahoma and decided that the best way to riot-proof the campus was to fold. But off the field, barnstorming Barnett -- who ditched Northwestern for Boulder -- was granted a five-year contract extension worth $8 million. Citing CU's current penny-pinching state, one English professor got out his thesaurus and proclaimed the decision "obscene." Responded CU Board of Regents chairwoman Susan Kirk, "The issue is not whether it is appropriate to be paying that amount of money to a football coach when your mission is education." Give that woman an incomplete in logic.

Rocky, the city's highest-profile sports mascot, was jailed on allegations that he'd harassed his ex-wife. The popular mascot with the lightning tail was sidelined for three Nuggets games (leaving the team without its best performer) until he was reinstated by management. Rocky's alter ego, 36-year-old Kenn A. Solomon, faces a formal arraignment in Arapahoe County in January on one felony count of trespassing and one misdemeanor count of harassment.

The team he works for could be charged with more serious offenses.

Gone but Not Forgotten

Linda Boreman, who as Linda Lovelace starred in the porn classic Deep Throat, died in a car accident near Highlands Ranch. At the time of her death, Boreman, 53, had repudiated the movie and become a crusader against smut, saying an abusive husband forced her to make the film.

Neil Murdoch arrived in Crested Butte in 1974 and quickly earned a reputation as a visionary for pushing the sport of mountain biking. His ability to transform old Schwinn bikes into fat-tire machines with ultra-low gears that could conquer ski terrain became the stuff of legend. But something went flat in 1998, when a sheriff's deputy found that Murdoch was using the Social Security number of a Pennsylvania man. Soon after, Murdoch and one of his cycles disappeared in the Four Corners area -- and two weeks later the town threw him a going-away party in absentia, enshrining his mug in the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame. In September 2001, a U.S. marshal tracked Murdoch down in Taos; he's been wanted since 1973 for jumping bail in Albuquerque after being caught with 26 pounds of cocaine. Last spring, the 61-year-old Murdoch -- whose real name is Richard Bannister -- pleaded guilty to federal charges of trafficking cocaine and failure to appear. Those fat-tired bikes can get you out of tough places, but not Murdoch's current fix.

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