A reporter’s notebook is filled with many stories of heroics, tragedy and the mundane. It can also contain some truly head-scratching instances of the weird and wacky.
Any look back at the events of 2018 would not be complete without some of the more unusual occurrences that World-Herald staffers encountered. Here is a slightly different look at the year in review, including a school cafeteria cook secretly serving kangaroo meat and six baby squirrels getting their tails tangled together.
March 21: Omaha man shoots himself in his sleep
A 30-year-old Omaha man accidentally shot his pinky finger after falling asleep holding his new handgun. The man, who lives near 60th and L Streets, told police that he was sitting on a couch in his house when he “must have fallen asleep” holding his newly purchased 9 mm pistol in his right hand.
He told officers that he was awakened about 4:30 a.m. by a loud bang.
The man’s wife drove him to the hospital for treatment. Doctors told police officers who came to the hospital about 5:30 a.m. that the wound would require surgery.
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April 24: Man points laser at police helicopter
If you’re trying to avoid arrest, maybe you shouldn’t help police find you.
That was the lesson a 40-year-old man learned after he was accused of aiming a green laser pointer at Omaha police officers in a department helicopter.
The man, who was a backseat passenger in a Dodge Neon that was near 107th Plaza and Ida Street, started to shine a laser at the helicopter about 10 p.m. April 22. The police helicopter followed the car until an officer in a cruiser stopped it near 120th Street and West Maple Road.
The man told the officer that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Purposefully pointing a laser at an aircraft is a violation of federal law.
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April 25: Python snakes way into Papillion apartment
The Nebraska Humane Society was called to an apartment building in Papillion about 4 a.m. April 21, to take away a ball python that had found its way into an apartment.
Mark Langan of the Humane Society said the snake probably belonged to someone else in the building and may have slithered through vents into the caller’s apartment.
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May 1: Officer thinks gun isn’t loaded, shoots window
An Omaha police officer caused an estimated $200 in damage when he unintentionally fired a bullet into a window at the Omaha Public Safety Training Center.
Officer Timothy B. Ringhoff thought that a Glock 19 was empty when he pulled the trigger to “dry fire” the gun, according to the police report that he wrote. Ringhoff is a 19-year veteran of the Omaha Police Department.
No one was injured, but the bullet shattered a layer of bullet-resistant glass at the training center’s shooting range.
Ringhoff, 44, wrote that he had gone to the range to deliver ammunition. Two officers asked Ringhoff for help adjusting the sights on their guns, and he made sure that they were empty before working on them in an upstairs office, the report said.
Ringhoff said that upon returning the handguns to their owners, he began discussing the weapons and didn’t notice one of the officers placing ammunition in the Glock 19. Ringhoff said he picked up the gun and pointed it in “a safe direction” before pulling the trigger.
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May 18: Telling the tale of untangling squirrels’ tails
Laura Stastny has a skill few others share: untangling squirrel tails.
And the local wildlife expert got a chance to use it.
Six baby squirrels were found the week before in Elkhorn with their tails tangled together, so much so that they became a six-headed animal cluster.
Stastny, executive director of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, said their tails got stuck together because of tree sap. Then their tails became knotted as the eight-week-old squirrels wrestled around in their nest.
Stastny did the untangling at the rescue group’s center in Fort Calhoun.
She gave the squirrels a mild painkiller and covered them with a towel because they would be calmer in the dark.
The work took about an hour.
The squirrels were all doing fine, she said, although several of them would need surgery to remove parts of their tails that were damaged while tangled.
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May 26: Rebel with claws survives ride atop van
A kitty clung to the roof of a fast-moving van, his fur blown back by the wind.
A family traveling near the van on Interstate 480 in Omaha captured the scene on video, which went viral online.
The kitty survived the ride, but why didn’t it get blown off?
Pam Wiese, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Humane Society, said cats are known for their great balance, agility and athleticism, so those qualities certainly helped.
The situation played out when Ronda Rankin and her family drove down I-480.
They thought they saw an animal on the roof of a van.
Members of the Omaha family rolled down their windows, pulled alongside the van and began yelling out “cat” and pointing to the roof.
Michelle Criger said the cat, named Rebel, belongs to her.
Criger said the man driving her van slowed down and stopped so Rebel could be plucked from the roof and put inside. She said he was just fine. The van had traveled about 2 miles with the cat on the roof.
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June 1: Missing books’ story ends with a cliffhanger
A package arrived at the UNO library with no return address.
Inside were books, along with a note that created a bit of intrigue for library staff.
The anonymous note said the books — two about witchcraft and one about Jack the Ripper — were taken from the library four decades ago.
“40 years ago I walked out of the UNO library with these books and never got around to returning them,” the note says. “Please forgive my laziness and reluctance to not only properly check them out — but for keeping them so long.”
The note, written in neat printing, was signed: “A former student.”
Joyce Neujah, the UNO library’s director of patron services, said the full story of the purloined volumes will probably remain shrouded in mystery, but she noted that books about Jack the Ripper have long had a habit of going missing.
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June 13: Armored car guard loses gun he left on bumper
An armored car guard told police that he lost a semiautomatic pistol in midtown Omaha after leaving it on the rear bumper of his work vehicle before driving away.
The gun was lost about 6:30 a.m. as the guard left Rochester Armored Car near 40th and Leavenworth Streets, according to a police report. The pistol was described as a Smith & Wesson FNS .40-caliber, valued at $400.
The 32-year-old guard told police that he placed the gun, a holster, ammunition and a flashlight on the bumper as he was preparing for his shift. He was called away for a time, the guard said, and forgot about the items when he returned.
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July 6: Penguins go missing but not from the zoo
These penguins can’t swim, waddle or slurp down fish. But they are lovable, and their owners want them back.
Three bronze penguin sculptures were stolen from outside Village Pointe Pediatrics near 180th and Burke Streets.
The clinic said that the penguins serve as mascots and that the young patients love them. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigated.
Chief Deputy Tom Wheeler said it’s possible that the statues were taken to sell as scrap metal.
They should be easy to spot, he said.
“Four-foot-tall penguins made out of metal, you don’t see all the time,’’ he said. “They should stand out.”
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July 24: Protesters nearly nude but covered by the law
Scantily clad protesters at 72nd and Dodge Streets don’t appear to have done anything illegal, Omaha’s city prosecutor said.
Police responded about 6 p.m. July 21 to the area to investigate a report of indecent exposure. Officers discovered several women wearing bikini bottoms and pasties covering their nipples.
The group was from nearby Club Omaha, which offers nude dancing. The group was protesting a new state law requiring bottle clubs to obtain liquor licenses and a judge’s decision that found the law applies to the club. Bottle clubs are businesses that allow patrons to bring their own alcohol. The new law gives the state the authority to require liquor licenses for bottle clubs.
Matt Kuhse reviewed both state law and city ordinances and said he could not find one that could be applied in this instance.
City ordinances and state laws against indecent exposure, public indecency and lewd conduct didn’t apply because, among other things, genitals weren’t exposed, Kuhse said.
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July 31: Cooking causes blaze at Omaha fire station
Firefighters who inadvertently left food cooking on a stove caused a fire that left their northwest Omaha fire station with extensive damage.
It would take at least three weeks to repair the damage caused by the fire at Station 43, near 103rd and Fort Streets, officials said.
The fire gutted the station’s kitchen and living areas.
Fire Department officials researched the last time an Omaha fire station burned and found records of a fire in 1917, Fitzpatrick said. “We should be good for another 100 years.”
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Aug. 28: Parachuter lands in tree after jump gone awry
Abbey Lacy saw big trees below her and knew her parachute landing wasn’t going as planned.
The 29-year-old Omaha woman had just made her first solo jump from a sky-diving plane near Weeping Water, Nebraska.
Lacy said that as she floated down, she was in radio contact with a person on the ground who was giving her instructions on where to guide the parachute.
But she said the radio cut out, and she panicked. She said she used handles to put the “brakes” on the parachute, causing her to land in a tree, with the parachute cords becoming tangled in the branches. She said she spent three hours in the tall tree.
She eventually was rescued from her perch by the Plattsmouth Fire Department, according to a report from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. The report said she was 60 to 65 feet above the ground.
Lacy, who is a nurse at Methodist Hospital, said she was in good spirits during the first 90 minutes of her ordeal.
But she said she continued to feel numbness in her legs because the parachute harness was cutting off blood flow. She also started to feel lightheaded and became scared as she felt the parachute cords slipping.
She was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment of bumps, bruises and cuts. She also said she has some nerve damage in her right leg, but doctors say it will heal.
So will she ever go sky diving again?
“Absolutely,” she said, “as soon as my legs will let me.”
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Sept. 7: ‘What kind of fool’ steals a doorbell camera?
It was bad enough that someone stole Kent Templien’s doorbell surveillance camera. But Templien was dumbfounded when he learned that the camera was being hooked up at another residence.
“I guess I want to know what kind of fool does something like that,” said Templien, who lives near the Village Pointe shopping center in west Omaha. “What’s happening? Are you stealing so someone doesn’t steal packages left on your porch?”
The Ring brand smart doorbell device allows users to monitor their property. When the doorbell is pressed, an application begins a video call to a connected device such as a cellphone so that the owner can see and speak to the visitors.
About 5:20 a.m. Aug. 28, Templien thought someone was trying to break into his house through the front door. When he checked outside, the video doorbell had been removed and a flower planter had been shattered.
Whoever stole the camera was able to block the lens before his or her image was caught on video, Templien said Thursday. The thief got away with a device that cost Templien $200. He or she also destroyed a $50 planter.
Later that day, Templien received a message from the Ring company that someone was trying to hook up the camera at another location. Each unit has a tracking component that informs the company when it has changed locations.
Templien, 53, said the company replaces stolen units after they receive a police report confirming the theft.
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Oct. 11: Loose horses on ‘wild, wild west Giles’
La Vista police officers were part of an unplanned rodeo when they were called to help wrangle horses.
A group of elk hunters from Wisconsin who were headed to Wyoming were staying overnight at the Cabela’s near Giles Road and Interstate 80. The store has a corral for horses to rest in during long trips.
About 2 a.m. Saturday, seven horses got loose, and La Vista police officers were called to help. The horses had wandered to the nearby Alamo Drafthouse theater and onto West Giles Road.
Officers were able to gather all the horses within half an hour, said La Vista Capt. Bryan Waugh.
Department officials later joked on social media that they should start a mounted patrol unit on the “wild, wild West Giles.”
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Oct. 19: School cook is gone after giving chili little kick
The cook who served kangaroo meat to students at a western Nebraska school without telling them is no longer employed by the district.
Some students at the junior-senior high in the Potter-Dix district unknowingly ate kangaroo when the school’s head cook added it to some chili. He told the school district’s superintendent that he had done so “because of its nutritional value and because it is a very lean meat,” the superintendent, Mike Williams, wrote in a letter to parents.
Williams said the school, which is in Potter, has 87 students in grades 7 through 12. Potter is about 20 miles west of Sidney in the Nebraska Panhandle.
In the letter, Williams apologized to parents. He wrote that if foods or ingredients are out of the ordinary, “they should be listed on the menu so that the students and families are aware of what they would be being served.”
In a phone interview, he said the cook no longer works for Potter-Dix Public Schools. (Williams later resigned from his post, effective June 30, 2019.)
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Oct. 24: In pictures at Donut Stop, hole for future groom
Donut Stop has always been one of Lynnea Malley’s favorite places. So when the 26-year-old Papillion native heard that the shop was closing Oct. 31, “I wanted to do something special,” she said.
Malley, who now makes music part time in Chicago, was in town for a wedding, but she didn’t have much time.
A friend suggested that she take her wedding photos at the bakery. Malley, who graduated from Papillion-La Vista High in 2010, had always joked that she loved the place so much that she would get married there.
The thing is, though, she’s single. Malley said on Facebook that a future beau could always be photoshopped in.
When Malley told her mom the idea, her mom embraced it immediately, even pointing out that she had a dress Malley could wear.
So in early September, on the way to catch a flight back to Chicago, Malley found herself headed to Donut Stop wearing a wedding dress and feeling a bit apprehensive.
She and her mom started taking photos outside, and she thought about stopping there. But her mom encouraged her to go inside. She even went in before Malley to tell the people inside what was going on.
“They were surprisingly on board with it,” Malley said.
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Oct. 25: Man arrested with ax, baseball bat, machete
A 20-year-old man arrested in Lincoln gave new meaning to the term “heavily armed.”
The man was carrying an ax and a baseball bat about 2 p.m. near 28th and N Streets when he was stopped by a Lincoln police officer.
He told the officer that he also had a concealed weapon on him and pulled a machete with an 18-inch blade out of his pant leg. The officer then searched the man and found that he also was carrying “multiple concealed knives.”
The man was cited on suspicion of carrying concealed weapons.
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Nov. 15: Ax-wielding man angry over thermostat
A Lincoln man was arrested after his roommates told police that he had threatened them with an ax because the apartment was too cold.
Lincoln police were called to a home near 26th and Y Streets about 5:30 a.m. Nov. 14 to investigate a disturbance. A couple told officers that they were in bed when their roommate, who they said was intoxicated, entered the bedroom and told them to get out.
The man, 46, was upset with the home’s thermostat setting, according to police. He complained that he was cold and wanted the place to be warmer.
The male roommate wrestled the intoxicated man to the floor and held him until police arrived.
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Dec. 4: Smooth arsonist explains burns on his face
A man arrested in Lincoln on suspicion of second-degree arson denied setting the fire, claiming that the burns to his face were caused by improper use of a Nair hair removal product.
The fire occurred at a home southwest of 84th and O Streets. A woman who lives at the house told police that she had been going through a breakup and was being harassed by her ex-boyfriend.
A witness told police that they noticed a Chevrolet Traverse arrive at the home and park in the driveway after the woman left for work. A man got out and disappeared around the back of the house for a short time before driving away.
The witness then heard an explosion and saw the house on fire. Police later learned that the woman’s ex-boyfriend, from Adams, Nebraska, drove a Traverse and that he matched the description provided by the witness.
Officers interviewed the 40-year-old man at his home in Adams. They noticed that he had singed eyebrows as well as burns on his nose and forehead.
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Dec. 18: Man with a rifle makes neighbors move cars
A 27-year-old Norfolk man was arrested after neighbors told police that he pointed a rifle at them after they refused to move their cars from his side of the street. Officers were called to the 200 block of South 16th Street in Norfolk, where witnesses said the man headed inside after neighbors moved their cars. Police went to the door of the home and were met by the man, who still had a rifle in his hands. The man, who handed over the rifle, was booked into the Norfolk City Jail.
Former World-Herald staff writers Dan Golden and Michael O’Connor contributed to this report.