Every year starts off with such hope and promise. Then reality hits and the train rolls off the tracks. Strange things begin to happen, people start behaving badly and the rest of us are left to scratch our heads in wonder. We can't complain too much, however; it keeps the newspaper in business.
Here are a few of the local oddities that captured headlines in Citrus County in 2004.
STARTING THE NEW YEAR ON THE WRONG FOOT: A deputy driving along State Road 44 in Lecanto on New Year's Eve sees a man running along the highway wearing nothing but white socks. He tries to corral the naked jogger, but the 28-year-old jumps onto the hood of the cruiser, runs over the roof and continues running west. A Taser shot ends his jaunt.
THE CAR WAS TAUNTING HIM: A 22-year-old Crystal River man who was tossed from a bar after spilling drinks and falling off a bar stool is arrested after police say he used his fists and head to damage a bar employee's '94 Caprice.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE HOUSE FEELS?: Vern Blevins, who was fired from the Sheriff's Office for insulting Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, including mocking the color of Dawsy's house, seeks $3-million in lost wages and emotional damage.
HE'S OUT TO BURY THE COMPETITION: An emergency medical service worker is told to stop handing out funeral home business cards to grieving families after one funeral director complains to the county that the EMS worker is giving out his rival's business cards.
HE TRIED SWALLOWING THE RIFLE BUT THE BARREL GOT STUCK: As a deputy with a drug-sniffing dog is searching his vehicle, the driver starts swallowing pieces of crack cocaine. He gets down 15 pieces before the deputy grabs his throat to keep him from swallowing any more. The man also had a bag of marijuana and a .22-caliber rifle.
DO YA FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?: A 50-year-old St. Petersburg man gets the longest sentence ever handed down by County Judge Mark Yerman, almost six years total, after he repeatedly curses Yerman. Arrested for indecent exposure after he was seen flashing in front of a Homosassa restaurant, the man first gets a sentence of probation. He curses at Yerman and gets six months for contempt of court. He curses again and gets six more months. While in jail on those charges, he touches a fellow inmate in a lewd manner and gets several 364-day sentences.
LOOKING FOR NUTHATCHES? TRY CRYSTAL RIVER CITY HALL: Bird lovers are worried because they found no brown-headed nuthatches in the Withlacoochee State Forest during their annual bird count. Volunteers are sought to search the 43,000-acre forest for some signs.
LUCIFER NEEDS A BETTER AGENT: Officials at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park drop Lucifer the Hippo from the visitors' tour because the park can't accommodate the crowds near the hippo and gator enclosures, especially when Lucifer starts his famous tail-spinning and spraying-of-waste routine.
WANTED: HEART AND BRAIN FOR HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION: Sol Koppel of Beverly Hills gets in hot water with his homeowners association after he xeriscapes his lawn to save water and time, which he needs to care for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis. The association demands that he have a lush, green lawn.
GLAD THEY DIDN'T HEAR ABOUT THAT CRAZY WEEKEND IN TIJUANA: Three local Republican candidates have themselves investigated by private investigators and pronounce themselves scandal-free.
GOOD THING SHE'S NOT FRENCH: Louise Hogberg, a naturalized U.S. citizen, gets in trouble with the Windermere subdivision homeowners association for displaying a flag from her native Australia along with the American flag. The flag flap caused a minor uproar in Australia, which has long been one of America's staunchest allies.
IT WAS THEIR ONLY INTELLIGIBLE LYRIC: The local musical group Carnival Arrest gets the hook from Citrus County Fair officials after they "dropped the F-bomb" on stage, as their bassist explained. The officials cut off electricity to the group's amps.
HE'LL HOLD HIMSELF IN CONTEMPT: A Lake County attorney seeking to be a judge in the circuit that includes Citrus County faces a domestic abuse complaint filed by his wife. The candidate is ordered to stay away from his own family.
HOW MUCH IS THAT COUPLE IN THE WINDOW?: Rodger and Renee McPheeters, opponents of Crystal River's move to annex 500 acres of commercial land, begin living in the storefront they own in a strip shopping center that is part of the annexation. The couple say they always have wanted to live in the store to cut down on expenses.
HE STUDIED ALL DAY FOR THOSE TESTS: An Inverness man who was fired from the construction crew working on the Crystal River Middle School for drinking on the job crashes his car into a pole at the school. Police find him with an open can of beer in his lap, and he fails several sobriety tests.
COMING SOON TO AN EPISODE OF "COPS': State Rep. Charlie Dean, a former sheriff, gets into a dispute with a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who pulled over Dean as he was racing to corral several of his wayward cattle.
NO, IT'S NOT THE BROADWAY PLAY: South Dunnellon residents complain to county officials about an invasion of cats. The estimated 400 feral animals are digging holes in lawns, defecating everywhere and mating in the streets, residents say.
DA TRUCK IS SLEEPING WITH DA FISHES: A St. Petersburg man had been drinking when he drove his pickup off Ozello Trail and into the Gulf of Mexico. He wades over to a fisherman and demands that he give him a ride. The angler swats him with his fishing pole, and the man heads to shore, starts up the fisherman's truck and drives it into the water.
HE CAN ONLY SPEND THE LOOT IN THE ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE: An armed man who robs the Mercantile Bank in Inverness might have trouble passing the loot, which includes a number of $2 bills that sport the logo of Clemson University.
SOME THINGS EVEN GATORS WON'T EAT: A gator that wasn't happy about being captured slices a claw through the rope, clamps onto gator catcher Scott Arnhold's knee and goes into a death roll across the asphalt on Owen Drive in Inverness. The 11-foot gator apparently didn't like the taste and spit Arnhold out.
FINALLY, A RACE FOR THREE-LEGGED RUNNERS: Progress Energy officials are less than thrilled about a logo for the Nature Coast Twilight Triathlon that sports a glow-in-the-dark skeleton running, biking and swimming in the shadow of the energy complex's distinctive cooling towers.
DIDN'T HE DO MARKETING FOR NEW COKE?: Local candidates are puzzled by a peculiar recorded message on their phones saying that "Mac the opponent killer is going to be calling you next week. Be ready." It turns out to be from a Longwood marketing firm targeting prospective customers in the political field. He later calls back to apologize.
THEIR PARENTS WILL BE SO PROUD: MTV tapes a program on teen pranks that includes a stunt by Citrus High students who used paintball guns to vandalize a homecoming float at Crystal River High School. About a dozen Citrus students re-enact the crime at Tampa Robinson High School after Citrus officials reject MTV's request to use local facilities.
SEARCH FOR JUSTICE TAKES TO THE ROAD: The lawsuits filed by Citrus County and a citizens group against Crystal River's annexation ordinance are moved to Brooksville after all of Citrus County's judges recuse themselves.
FAMILIES THAT SPRAY TOGETHER, STAY TOGETHER: The Hernando Sportsmans Club sponsors a July 4th Machine Gun Shoot during which five cars will be destroyed using various high-powered weapons. Shooters will use their own machine guns, and there is no charge for children under 12.
THE SEARCH GOES ON . . .: Circuit Judge Jack Springstead in Brooksville recuses himself from the Citrus County annexation lawsuits because of insulting comments that Citrus Commissioner Jim Fowler made about Springstead in an earlier land-use case.
LANCE ARMSTRONG'S EVIL TWIN: A man robs the Mercantile Bank in Inverness, the second time this year it has been hit, and escapes on a bicycle.
SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME: Citrus Times editorial writer Greg Hamilton notes in a column about the upcoming Cooter Festival that "cooter" is slang for a part of a woman's anatomy. The piece sets off a whirlwind of controversy and City Manager Frank DiGiovanni says he will cancel the festival, but the City Council overrules him. Within weeks, the Comedy Central program The Daily Show is in town to tape a segment on the ruckus.
DRUNKEN LOGIC I: A Crystal River man stopped for speeding on U.S. 19 fails several field sobriety tests and tells police that he is driving because he is too drunk to walk.
IT'S BLOW OUT THE CANDLES, NOT BLOW 'EM AWAY: An Inverness man celebrating his 34th birthday is arrested after he pulls a semiautomatic pistol during his party and threatens to start shooting.
IT'S AMAZING _ HIS PREDICTION COMES TRUE: When deputies arrive at the scene on County Road 491, a Crystal River man is arguing with a woman and demands that deputies take him to jail, adding, "I'm going to give you a reason to take me to jail." He begins tussling with deputies, who zap him with a Taser and fulfill his wish to be behind bars.
SHARING OUR COOTERS WITH AN APPRECIATIVE NATION: The Inverness Cooter Festival gets national exposure when The Daily Show's segment is aired.
ASSAULT WITH LOADED OATS: Christopher Perry of Dunnellon clobbers his girlfriend's 67-year-old mother with a 3-pound bag of oatmeal when she walks into the room. Deputies find the woman's hair, face and clothing coated with uncooked oatmeal flakes.
GIVE PEACE A DANCE: Lefty Dave Smith, a local musician, is all set to perform at a Dance For Peace at the Inverness Highlands Civic Association meeting hall when the group pulls the plug on him. Some in the group complain that he didn't energize the crowd at a recent dance, but the cancellation may have something to do with the signs put up around the neighborhood for the dance, featuring a peace symbol as the middle letter in the word For.
LOVE HURTS: An Inverness man and his girlfriend are arguing at a gas station when the woman tries to drive away. The man holds on to the car's door handle and is pulled down, with the woman driving over him.
DRUNKEN LOGIC II: Amber Anderson catches a break when a deputy at a traffic stop tells her to stop driving because records show that her license has been suspended. Six hours later, the same deputy sees Anderson driving along State Road 44. Anderson tells the deputy she is driving "because everyone else was drunk."
. . . AND ON AND ON . . . : An Ocala judge recuses himself from the lawsuits filed by Citrus County and a citizens group against Crystal River over the city's annexation.
IF YOU WANT TO DRIVE IT THAT MUCH, JUST ENLIST: National Guardsmen resting at a Crystal River motel are startled to hear one of their Humvees start up in the parking lot. They confront the man behind the wheel, who dashes off, only to return later and try again to drive off with the military vehicle. This time, the guardsmen hold him for police.
. . . AND ON AND ON . . .: Yet another new judge is assigned to the Crystal River annexation lawsuits.
STOP EYE-BALLING EYES: "Big" Mike Eyes, a candidate for sheriff, sues incumbent Sheriff Jeff Dawsy for harassment saying that sheriff's vehicles are following him and that anyone whose vehicle has a Eyes bumper sticker is being pulled over by deputies.
LADIES TOLD TO PACK UP THEIR COOTERS AND GO HOME: A mother and daughter trying to capitalize on the Cooter Festival craze print up T-shirts and get permission from Inverness officials to set up a booth at the upcoming event. Days before the festival, the city revokes the permit saying the women can't sell shirts because that would interfere with the city's sale of T-shirts and because the city can't be sure how tasteful the shirts would be.
THE FETUSES, HOWEVER, WERE CHARGED WITH KICKING EACH OTHER: Prosecutors decide not to charge Tasha Yerk after she is accused of punching Amanda Conley at a parenting class. Both young women are pregnant with the same man's children.
UM, YOU'RE OFF BY ABOUT 6 INCHES: A Hernando man pays for a six-pack of Budweiser but walks out of Publix with two tubes of Preparation H hemorrhoid treatment that he stuffs into his shorts pocket.
. . . AND ON AND ON . . . : Crystal River's city attorney asks the newly assigned judge in the annexation lawsuits to step down, saying that he was unprepared for a hearing and is unwilling to listen to arguments.
DOGS WOULD HAVE MORE CLASS: Police say Thomas Martinez got angry and knocked down his girlfriend after she grabbed a turkey gizzard out of a cooking pan and started gnawing on it "the way a dog would eat it."
PERHAPS HE SWAM OUT WITH THE TIDE: Police are searching for a 200-pound statue of a scuba diver that has greeted visitors at the entrance to Crystal River on State Road 44.
FIRST GOOD SHOT SHE MADE ALL NIGHT: Fatima Proctor was upset that she was losing a game of pool at Griff's bar in Inverness, so police say she threw a beer glass at her opponent's head and missed. She then fired a billiard ball at the man and hit the back of his head.
THE MEGADETH CONCERT T-SHIRT IS OFF-LIMITS, TOO: One of the first edicts issued by new school superintendent Sam Himmel is that administrators can no longer wear blue jeans or denim clothing to work because she wants them to look more professional. She hopes to extend the dress code to schools eventually.
. . . AND ON AND ON . . .: For the second time in a month, Circuit Judge Richard Weinberg rejects a motion by Crystal River's city attorney to step down from the annexation lawsuits.
HE THREW HIMSELF A GOING-AWAY PARTY: After his last run as a Pizza Hut delivery driver, David Gofton tells his boss over the phone that he has quit his job. The manager calls police because Gofton still has company equipment and the money from the last deliveries. Gofton tells police he will return the heated pizza delivery bag but that he has spent the $28 from a customer on beer.
Louise Hogberg, a naturalized U.S. citizen, displayed the flag of her native Australia at her home, along with Old Glory, much to the consternation of the Windermere subdivision homeowners association, which restricts flags to the Stars and Stripes. The tussle caused a minor flap Down Under.
City of Inverness Inverness city employee Debbie Davis, dressed in a cooter costume, is interviewed by correspondent Ed Helms, right, in August for a story on Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. The show's crew came to Inverness to cover the controversy over the city's planned Cooter Festival.
The Citrus County Schools Food Service Association had a fundraiser for the Student Scholarship Fund. Donors paid $1 to vote for which public official they would most like to see kiss a pig: Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, superintendent of schools Dave Hickey, School Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel or Realtor John Barnes. The fundraiser brought in $1,350, and Dawsy, right, puckered up to lay one on this porker as Nocona Brooks looks on outside Stumpknockers Restaurant in Inverness in February.
Sol Koppel of Beverly Hills, shown in March, xeriscaped his front lawn to save water and time; he cares for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis. Despite the fact that environmental officials endorse xeriscaping, Koppel's homeowners association demanded that he have a grass lawn.
This promotional poster for the Nature Coast Twilight Triathlon didn't win any kudos from Progress Energy officials. Something about a skeleton traipsing through neon-colored goo with a nuclear station cooling tower in the background.
Lucifer the hippo, shown at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in 2001, has been dropped from the park's visitors' tour because officials can't accommodate crowds near the hippo and gator enclosures.