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In Florida, 2019 was the Year of the Exploding Toilet

Also the gator in the yoga pants, of course
An 11-foot alligator is seen in the Clearwater home of Mary Wischhusen early May 31. [Clearwater Police Department]
An 11-foot alligator is seen in the Clearwater home of Mary Wischhusen early May 31. [Clearwater Police Department]
Published Dec. 27, 2019
Updated Dec. 27, 2019

When historians study 2019, they will surely take note that this was the Year of the Florida Man.

First, in March, came the “Florida Man Challenge,” a social media fad involving Googling your birthday and the term “Florida Man” to see what bizarre news item popped up. A month later came the Florida Man backlash, in which commentators debated whether it was ethical to laugh about Florida Man headlines because so many involve people who are homeless or mentally ill.

I prefer to remember 2019 as the Year of the Exploding Toilet.

Each year Florida produces a ton of wacky headlines, but there’s always one that seems to grab the national imagination. In 2016 the winner was the story of the Loxahatchee guy who tossed an alligator through a Wendy’s drive-through window.

The story that fills that role this year involved a couple in Port Charlotte who were awakened by what one of them, Marylou Ward, later called “the loudest sound I ever heard.” Lightning had struck their septic tank, igniting the methane gas inside. The explosion not only cracked open their pipes but also blew apart their toilet.

A toilet exploded inside a Port Charlotte home when lightning struck the front lawn near a septic tank. [Twitter/WSVN 7 NEWS]

Somehow Ward found the bright side, commenting, “I’m just glad none of us were on the toilet.."

Many other Florida stories this year exploded into the national consciousness like septic tanks struck by lightning. Take what happened in Port Richey, where the Pasco County Sheriff’s SWAT team raided Mayor Dale Massad’s house as he fired several shots at them. He was wanted for, of all things, practicing medicine without a license.

Port Richey city government has been left challenged by the arrest this year of two mayors: Dale Massad, top left and Terrence Rowe, bottom left. [Times files]

Twenty days later, Massad’s replacement, acting mayor Terrence Rowe, was busted on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and use of a two-way communication device to facilitate the commission of a crime. Thank heavens he didn’t try practicing medicine!

Drugs, guns and politics collide in Port Richey.

This year proved Florida is a place where you will never suffer an irony deficiency. A University of Miami professor who wrote a book on money laundering was charged with money laundering. A Pensacola woman was charged with embezzling $60,000 from her employer while on probation for embezzling from her previous employer. A South Daytona man on probation for burglary violated his probation by burglarizing the probation office. A man who had just spent $8 million to buy his own private island in the Keys was charged with scamming Kmart out of $300.

Stuart police announced that they had arrested five guys for getting into a fistfight at Five Guys.

As always, Florida animal stories were more exciting than any episode of TV’s Wild Kingdom. A dog in Port St. Lucie somehow got behind the wheel of a car and knocked it into gear, so it circled a cul-de-sac for an hour — backward. In August, a surfer in New Smyrna Beach leaped off his surfboard and landed on a shark. Two months later the same thing happened at the same beach with a different surfer.

A Florida dog put a car into reverse and drove it in circles for nearly an hour -- backwards. [Associated Press]

Iguanas became such a menace that the state wildlife commission encouraged everyone to shoot them on sight, then had to backpedal when a trapper trying to shoot one with a pellet gun accidentally hit a Boca Raton pool boy in the leg.

Florida’s best wild animal story happened in August when a Charlotte County deputy stopped a couple in a truck for running a stop sign. The deputy discovered the woman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack contained 41 three-stripe turtles — a big no-no. The deputy asked if she had anything else she shouldn’t have. She pulled a foot-long alligator out of her yoga pants. (This later led to the arrest of two Fort Myers men for illegal wildlife smuggling.)

Charlotte County Sheriff's Office officials say a woman pulled a small alligator from her yoga pants during a traffic stop on May 6, 2019. [Charlotte County Sheriff's Office]

Woman pulls gator out of yoga pants during traffic stop.

Alligators featured in a lot of Florida stories. An alligator lounging on a golf course in Bonita Springs during a tournament leaped up and snagged a ball in mid-air. A pair of Hobe Sound men were accused of pouring beer into a gator’s mouth to get it drunk.. Speaking of drunk gators, a 77-year-old Clearwater woman heard a crash and discovered an 11-foot alligator had burst through her ground-level kitchen window and knocked over some bottles. She later said, “I don’t know why he wanted my red wine, but he got my red wine.”

11-foot alligator bursts through window of Cleawater home

Naked and nearly nude people made headlines, as usual. A Cape Coral family woke up on Halloween to discover a stranger wearing nothing but underwear sitting on their roof with no memory of how he got there. A naked man snuck on board two yachts in Delray Beach, stole an American flag and made his getaway by jumping into the Intracoastal Waterway. Three naked women spotted outside a Pasco County interstate rest stop led police on a 21-mile chase. They said they’d just washed up and needed to “air dry.”

Naked women at rest stop lead police on wild chase.

Sometimes Florida’s men and women displayed a rare ingenuity. When Hurricane Dorian threatened the state, a Jacksonville man parked his Smart Car in his kitchen because he feared the storm would blow the tiny vehicle away. A West Palm Beach church in need of a home bought a strip club with plans to replace the poles with pews. Thieves used a flirty woman in a tight red dress to distract the clerk at a St. Johns County convenience store while they stole 200 gallons of gas from the pumps.

Florida men found some unusual ways to get into hot water this year. In April a man in Wildwood was arrested for the crime of singing a dirty song to a neighbor. Meanwhile a man dressed as the Easter Bunny got into a brawl in downtown Orlando.

Antoine McDonald has gained national notoriety for fighting in an Easter Bunny costume in Orlando. He also faces criminal charges, in New Jersey and in Hillsborough County. [Screenshot from Instagram; Pasco County Sheriff's Office]

Unusual weaponry remained a mainstay of Florida crime, with people being arrested for assault with a burrito (New Port Richey); a pot of hot turkey soup (Hudson) and a pressure washer (used on a neighbor with a leaf blower in Spring Hill). Sometimes our weapons backfired. Just ask the Daytona Beach man who threatened his noisy neighbors with nunchucks, then hit himself in the head with them.

Virginia says it’s for lovers, but really that should be Florida’s motto. A Holiday couple going through a rough patch were both arrested in March after they each tossed a concrete block through the other’s car window. See how much they have in common? A Nassau County couple arrested for drunken driving on a bicycle were put into a police cruiser in handcuffs, yet somehow stripped naked and had sex. Love will find a way!

Some Florida crimes were the kind that made you go, “Hmmmm.” In Miami Gardens, thieves broke into a warehouse and stole $80,000 worth of wigs. A man from the Panhandle community of Pace threatened to kill his neighbors “with kindness,” which sounds good until you find out he had a machete with the word “kindness” written on it. A man who goes by the name the Rooster rode a horse to break into a New Port Richey home, then had to ask deputies investigating the break-in for help because the horse wandered away. By the way, the horse, named Angel, did not belong to him.

Man on horse burglarizes home.

As you can see, Florida is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long — not unlike the St. Petersburg man arrested this month for giving away free marijuana. He told police he was doing that “because it was Christmas.” So stay tuned, because there’s no telling what surprises we will pull out of our yoga pants in 2020!

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