Lame Time, Last Year
Mitch O'Connell

Lame Time, Last Year

Okay, so the much-anticipated Y2K disaster never reared its ugly head.

But here in the Valley, that seemed to be about the only fiasco that didn't materialize as citizens suffered through high-profile headaches such as the alt-fuel mess, the AIMS test, Tempe's United Way brouhaha and the revelation that Scottsdale politico Gary Tredway was actually Howard Mechanic, a fugitive war activist who'd been hiding under an assumed name for 30 years. And who could forget news anchor Liz Habib's "f"-word-laced fly-apart in a Scottsdale bar?

Of course, some of the worst stuff got so buried in the crunch that maybe you never heard about it. Unlucky you.

"And the Joan Crawford Award for Motherhood goes to . . ."

In May, Ruth Ann Burns sued her doctors for malpractice because, she claimed, they had failed to discover her pregnancy in time for her to abort the child. Burns, who lost the suit, said she loved her 2-year-old son anyway, but argued that the doctors' alleged incompetence had forced her to change her career plans.

Snockers up!

Quizzed about some of the more memorable drunken-driving arrests in his 3,000-citation career, Mesa cop Tim Gaffney recalled one driver he'd pulled over who high-fived him while hollering, "DUIs rock!"


In January, a 20-year-old woman sued the Gilbert Unified School District, charging that administrators had done nothing to break up a sexual relationship she'd had with a high school security guard while attending school six years earlier. Age 14 at the beginning of the two-year-long affair, the woman admitted that she'd had sex with the guard between 80 and 100 times, and court records indicate that her parents were aware of the relationship.

Highway to Hull

During a January fund raiser for House Speaker Jeff Groscost, former state senator Gary Richardson joined state senators Rusty Bowers and David Petersen in mocking Governor Jane Hull by performing a song that suggested the state would be well rid of her when her term expired. Although Groscost defended the musical lampoon as "good fun," an irate Hull countered that the performance "does not show a great deal of class."

"Beam me down!"

After soliciting readers' wishes for the new millennium for its January 1, 2000, issue, the Arizona Republic led off the lengthy front-page roster with a Gilbert man's hope for world peace -- "kind of like they have it on Star Trek."

Why Johnny can't read

Prompted by the discovery of a video in which teenage boys were willingly beating the bejesus out one another -- in the tape, one kid rams a friend's head onto the sidewalk, then kicks him repeatedly in the noggin -- Tempe police investigated a group of students at Marcos de Niza High School who patterned their activities after the movie Fight Club.

Why Johnny won't read

In May, the Gilbert public library was the recipient of 15,000 books donated via a literacy promotion sponsored by Cracker Barrel restaurants. Among the gift tomes were 11,796 copies of a picture book called What Would Happen If . . . and 1,000 Quick and Easy Pasta paperback cookbooks, as well as several hundred copies of How to Use Microsoft Windows 95.

Who Wants to Throw Up?

When Rick Rockwell of Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? infamy performed his standup comedy routine at the Tempe Improv, he was introduced to the crowd by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. After the sheriff complained that the beleaguered bridegroom was getting more attention than he was, Rockwell countered, "Watch out. You're looking pretty good to me right now. It was a pretty rough honeymoon."

Ah, skip it

According to a study involving students who play hooky, Arizona has the worst truancy rate in the country.

"Amen, Baaaaabeeee!"

Life Studios, a Phoenix production company that makes "hip" Christian videos for teens, produced a tape called Awesome Powers: The God Who Loves You. In the tape, a Christlike figure dressed as Mike Myers' mod superspy character is chased by a group of shagadelic teenage models.

The day the court stood still

In February, Peter Gersten, executive director of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy, unsuccessfully argued before a federal court judge that he should be given access to government files on some "mysterious" lights seen in the Phoenix sky in 1997.

Do not pass Peoria, do not collect $200

In January, West Valley activists were outraged over Phoenix-in-a-Box, a Monopoly-like game in which players buy up properties and local landmarks. Although the game was loaded with references to resorts and shopping centers in Tempe, Scottsdale and Mesa, its only nod to the Valley's western sector was an amusement park near Metrocenter.

The worst little ore house

State officials decided against plans to burn up a New River munitions shed containing uranium rods in February after investigators predicted the blaze would trigger radioactive waste that would have "made the whole area a Superfund site."

That's one way to throw him a bone

In February, officials at Mesa Public Schools awarded their Volunteer of the Month medal to a dog that had been especially busy in recent months sniffing out on-campus bomb threats.

Of course, if he'd brought her a dozen tamales instead, he'd have been invited backstage

A Tucson man wearing a tuxedo was arrested after trying to deliver flowers to Linda Ronstadt at a Sundome concert last spring. Bernard Adelmo Ortiz, who had previously served 10 months in prison for attempting to contact the singer, told police Ronstadt "had touched my heart" and his only crime was not knowing any other way to approach her.

Stalk Market Crash

In March, police arrested accused serial stalker Gabriel Espinosa. Espinosa, who told police he was married to Mariah Carey, was also under investigation for stalking actress Christina Applegate, as well as writing a threatening postcard to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and local TV personalities Jineane Ford and Jana Bommersbach. The unemployed deliveryman had earlier been questioned in Beverly Hills after he left an envelope at Madonna's recording studio bearing a sticker that read, "Jesus Is Coming -- Look Busy."

Mondo Connie

On February 17, the Arizona Republic devoted its front page to a rambling, triple-bylined story that, some 6,955 words later, concluded that, no, presidential hopeful John McCain had never had an affair with ex-Hawaiian Eye starlet Connie Stevens. After offering no evidence to suggest that McCain was ever involved in the first place, the baffling saga also went on to absolve the politico of any participation in a sensational dismemberment murder then in local headlines.

Louie, Louie!

Claiming that news of the alleged scandal would "blow" the rotund comic's career, Richard John Gordon of Mesa was charged with attempting to extort $250,000 from comic Louie Anderson, after the entertainer allegedly sexually propositioned him in a casino several years ago. Prior to alerting FBI agents in April, Anderson reportedly had already ponied up $100,000 in blackmail payments.

"I see dead pupils!"

To draw attention to the perils of drinking and driving, 24 students at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa attended class dressed as corpses last March; although the students were to remain stone-faced and silent, some classmates spent the day trying to make them laugh.

The "Show Me" doctor

Following an investigation by the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners, Mesa doctor David G. Lawson was allowed to continue practicing in this state -- even though his license had been revoked in Missouri when several patients revealed he'd had sex with them in his office and his car in return for prescription drugs.

Not another Mickey Mouse operation

Jimmy Lee Naylor, a courier, was arrested in February when police who searched his home found a cache of stolen Disney memorabilia -- watches, plush toys, collectible figurines and animation cels -- worth more than $30,000.

No wonder they bury their heads in the sand

Headliners at this year's Chandler Ostrich Festival included Molly Hatchet and Little Feat.

Wet blanket

Paradise Valley cartoonist Bil Keane came under attack from local firefighters last summer, who claimed that a July strip involving a wading pool was insensitive to children's water safety issues. In the "Family Circus" cartoon, "Daddy," sitting a couple feet away from a wading pool, is constantly distracted from a magazine he's reading by his four children hollering, "Lookit!" and "Are you watching?"

It was the principal of the thing

Despite public outcry from parents and students, David Cummings, a first-grade teacher of 21 years at Chandler's Pomeroy Elementary School, was transferred to another school after he playfully shoved a piece of cake in the principal's face at a school's-out party.

"Backed-up cesspools, movie stars . . ."

Following 300 police calls to the property (incidents involved everything from burglary to violent crime) and more than 35 building-code violations (trash, cockroaches), officials discovered that one of the primary owners of the ramshackle Canyon Square Apartments in West Phoenix was Vicki Reynolds, mayor of Beverly Hills.

Mi vida logo

Members of Downtown Phoenix Partnership spent $800,000 in private and public funds to "rebrand" Phoenix downtown with the baffling appellation "Copper Square" -- replete with a virtually unreadable "CS" insignia that looked like Yves St. Laurent's logo.

What the "l"?

Following two potentially costly -- and highly embarrassing -- false arrests involving mistaken identities, Mesa police have decided to change the way they identify suspects. In one case, Ja'Mal Brown was taken into custody, even though work records proved he could not have been at the scene of an undercover drug buy. In another, Aaron Markley was erroneously arrested because police misspelled his name, adding an "l" to a suspect whose last name was "Markey."

"Grandma, what big feet you have!"

After deliberating for just 90 minutes, a jury convicted Amy Taylor, 75, of aggravated assault on a police officer. Described by one witness as the "Energizer Bunny," Taylor repeatedly kicked a cop who'd been called to City Hall to quiet her down during a tirade about the state's public health system.

"My, Grandma! What big rocks you have!"

"The cars came through there like she was giving it away." So one neighbor told police last July after Sarah Chandler Jones, 76, was arrested for selling crack out of her South Phoenix home.

Battery not included

Local domestic-violence groups expressed outrage when The Cajun House hosted a "wife beater" party in June, even when the Scottsdale nighterie explained the term refers to the nickname for the tight white tank tops worn by kids, not spousal abuse. Adding that the club was in no way "advocating wife beating," Cajun House manager Tom Welton told a reporter that the event was all in fun and that the idea was simply "for nice kids to dress up like low life."

Con film fest

Leaving no promotional venue unexploited, Sheriff Joe Arpaio hit the Internet this year with a live "Jail Cam" feed that allowed Web surfers to ogle up to 40 prisoners in a holding tank.

Love is a many-splintered thing

Explaining that he had a surprise for her, one night in August, Rafael Rodriguez drove his fiancée to the Phoenix tree-trimming business where he worked, then ordered her to close her eyes. Rodriguez next positioned the fiancée next to him on a moving conveyor belt and fed his body into a wood chipper. Although he attempted to pull his fiancée into the chipper before he died, the equipment jammed and she escaped with minor injuries.

Suture shock

Following a July 14 shootout that required Tempe policeman Wesley Tipton to undergo emergency surgery, doctors at Maricopa Medical Center accidentally left a sponge in Tipton's abdomen.

Cox suckers

Despite paying an extra $1-a-month fee to Cox Communication for an unlisted telephone number, some Valley customers discovered that their numbers and addresses appeared in the phone book anyway and had been released to databases, as well. Although Cox declined to say exactly how many Valley customers had been affected by the "procedural glitch," approximately 11,400 Cox customers in San Diego were involved in a similar situation earlier this year.

. . . and what's the RDA for Vitamin P, anyway?

In February, the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners temporarily suspended the license of dermatologist Bruce O'Dell. The doctor's license was yanked following repeated reports that he'd convinced underage male patients to let him drink their urine for the "vitamins" he claimed would keep him healthy and young.

Drawing a blank

Explaining that a teenager who showed up at school with a holstered gun and ammo hadn't actually threatened anyone, officials at Mesa High School decided against alerting parents of other students. When questioned about the apparent cover-up -- a hotline for emergency school threats had been in place since last year -- spokeswoman Judi Willis said, "If we would have felt that anyone had been in danger, I'm sure we would have proceeded differently."

Sprawl in the family

In August, KAET-TV announced it had decided against airing Subdivide and Conquer, a documentary about urban sprawl in Phoenix and other Western cities. But after providing a take-your-pick array of reasons for the controversial cancellation (the subject had already been done to death, the documentary wasn't "well-rounded" enough, the timing was too close to an upcoming election involving growth issues), program director Joe Campbell did an overnight about-face, announcing, "People have a right to see what it's all about."

"I love the smell of napalm in the evening!"

"I don't think that anyone thought through the initial impact."

So said Phoenix city manager Frank Fairbanks, announcing the cancellation of a training exercise in March that would have dropped soldiers from helicopters into a section of downtown Phoenix in the middle of the night -- an exercise that homeless advocates predicted might have triggered trauma for shell-shocked veterans and mentally impaired transients who live on the streets in that area.

Bra relief

In March, Tempe police recovered a 350-pound bronze statue of a nude woman that had been stolen from a foundry. Discovered inside the home of a young man who claimed he'd taken it as a prank, the $36,000 statue was clad in a bra and vest.

What? Like Jenny Jones, Brett Sommers and Sally Struthers were unavailable?

Keynote speakers at the eighth annual Arizona Family Women's Expo included Ricki Lake, Barbara Eden and Marcia Wallace, who played Bob Newhart's wisecracking secretary on TV.

Plus, it was a lash-minute decision

To lure shoppers to the grand opening of a Goodyear flea market in March, operators flew in über bargain hunter Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner to greet the crowds. Quizzed about her decision to travel across the country to inaugurate a swap meet, the mascara maven answered, "I like seeing people face to face."

Mary, Mudder of God

For the 38th year in a row, Easter services were held at Turf Paradise race track.

Stain in business

Marketing his brainchild with the catch phrase "Send us your dirty panties!," the owner of a Phoenix lab called Forensex offered customers the opportunity to determine whether their partners were cheating by examining soiled undies for semen residue.

There goes the judge

John M. Carpenter, a Phoenix justice of the peace, was removed from the bench following charges that, among other things, he'd used methamphetamine to stay awake while hearing cases.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >