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NEWSWATCH

Driving Miss Crazy

Driving instructor Allen Merritt thought he had taken on the world's worst student: She nearly ran down a construction worker, she flattened a food stand and now the cops were chasing her.

The joke was on Merritt: The construction worker and the police officers were actors, the food stand was a prop and the driver was a stunt woman. It was all part of an elaborate practical joke by one of Merritt's colleagues at the A-1 Academy of Driving in Abilene, Texas. "I had no idea what was going on," Merritt, 67, said after the ordeal. "Everybody knew but me!"

Defamation of a character

Richard Truhe wanted people to know he was not the suspect in several sexual assaults that had been widely reported in Las Vegas recently. So he called police to clear things up. Not a smart move, considering that Truhe, 33, was wanted in California for a long list of serious crimes.

He was arrested and will be extradited to California. Police said he got one thing right: He's not the suspect being sought in Las Vegas.

Winston tastes good, like a . . .

John Freiburger Jr., of Bettendorf, Iowa, returned home from a night out and found someone had broken in and stolen a tape player and a camera. Then they saw smoke coming from his microwave. Inside, Freiburger made a gruesome discovery: his pet parrot, Winston. Yes, Winston was smoked. "He could never say "Winston,' but he could say his nickname _ "Winnie the Pooh Bird,' " the grieving owner said. "This is sick."

Police arrested two teenage boys, both of whom have criminal records, and say the boys admitted being in the house, "but neither one will talk about the parrot."

Somebody didn't get a patronage job

Newly rediscovered archives reveal that some soldiers cheered Abraham Lincoln's assassination 133 years ago. Not Confederate soldiers _ his own Union troops.

"Damn him. He should have been shot four years ago," said Sgt. Henry Brainard of the 98th New York Regiment after hearing of Lincoln's death.

"I'm glad the old SOB is dead. It was no more than he deserved," said Sgt. Alexander Keenan of the 18th Regiment.

Amateur historians Thomas and Beverly Lowry found almost three dozen such strong denunciations of the commander-in-chief while indexing Army court-martial records in the National Archives in Washington. Sentences for the disloyal remarks varied from a two-hour punitive march on the parade ground to several years in prison at hard labor.

For his remarks, Brainard was punished severely _ court-martialed, found guilty of treason, dishonorably discharged and sentenced to two months at hard labor. Keenan's SOB remark got him five years.

Be prepared . . . to kill

Boy Scout troop leaders in Dallas are being, er, roasted for arranging to let hatchet-wielding Scouts catch, kill and dress chickens for a camp dinner. Leaders of Lake Highlands Troop 890 said they wanted to show Scouts how their meals got to the table. "The feeling was," Scoutmaster James Shepherd said, "that if they could see this is where their chicken comes from, it would be good for them."

On a recent camping trip, the troop was turned loose on a flock of chickens from a processing plant. The Scouts were shown how to kill, pluck, dress and prepare chickens for eating. About a dozen of the 80 Scouts declined to participate, and two parents later complained.

The idea came from the fathers of three troop members who fondly remembered a similar trip during their Scouting days. "Evidently the troop hadn't done this since then, 25 years ago," Shepherd said. "Now I know why."

Most of us just use the wipers

From the Mill Valley (Calif.) Herald police report: "At 10:39, resident reported that someone has been honking their horn for last five minutes. Subject turned out to be pizza delivery driver who has been using horn to try to get a dog off his vehicle."

Photo plop

Bangkok Gov. Bichit Rattakul, who was walking with an entourage along a main street in Thailand's capital last week to lay a wreath at a monument, suddenly disappeared from view. He fell into an open manhole.

_ Compiled from Times wire reports

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