Florida can be a pretty weird place, and it's something of a holiday tradition for news organizations throughout the state to put together lists of the weirdest stories of the year. (Read our "Why South Florida Can't Have Nice Things" roundup from last year.)
We decided to go straight to the people on the front lines: WLRN-Miami Herald News anchors, producers, editors and reporters. Here are what they thought were the most bizarre Florida stories of 2013.
It sounds like a bad joke: "A man walks into an Allapattah convenience store with an alligator..." But it was true. Fernando Aguilera tried to barter for a 12-pack of beer with a four-foot-long gator he found in a park. This story earned reporter and anchor Christine DiMattei's vote for weirdest story of 2013.
Digital Editor Maria Murriel’s weird-year pick is a story about a 23-year-old man tried to use the 15 minutes of fame he garnered from squatting in a foreclosed Boca Raton mansion to launch a second career. “I think the craziest part of this story is that after all this international attention he tried to launch a rap career.”
Florida quietly passed a law in 2012 requiring foreigners to get an international drivers license. Reporter Kenny Malone says that makes this story the craziest of the year because it angered one of the most important tourist groups to the state, Canadians, and broke international law.
“And there’s even a great, almost apology from Governor Scott after he had signed the repeal of that law," Kenny says. "Not only do we care what Canadians think about us, we listen and we change our policies based on it.”
That’s what a Miami law firm claimed on behalf of a client earlier this year when the state passed legislation that was meant to ban illegal gaming at Internet cafes. The allegation was that wording of the new Florida law was so vague that it could be read to include devices such as cellphones and personal computers.
But, if you’re worried that it might be illegal to use the new tablet you’re getting or have gotten for the holidays, our vice president of news Tom Hudson has this encouraging detail: “The lawsuit was actually thrown out on Constitutional grounds. So, yes, in fact, in the state of Florida you can still use cellphones.”
Turns out there’s a little loophole that adult stores in Fort Lauderdale use to get around restrictions that force them to be at a certain distance from public property. The deal is, as long as “adult” products (i.e. anatomically correct items) make up less than 30 percent of a store’s inventory, the business is not considered an adult store.
Wilson Sayre thinks the creative way stores get around this classification makes this one of the most bizarre stories she’s heard this year: “One store in Fort Lauderdale has a second story where they have dust coated Regis Philbin workout videos and, like, 100 copies of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" -- VHS of course -- which will probably never sell.”
For the most bizarre story of 2013, contributing editor Nathaniel Sandler submits the case of Peaches T. Miller. Miller was arrested this summer on grand theft and extortion charges after she allegedly conned a woman out of $800,000 in exchange for protection from voodoo curses.
“Yes, there are people here who feel that they can leverage their entire life’s fortune and future to protect themselves from voodoo curses.”
It was supposed to be a charity event where two mayors from Miami-Dade would duke it out mixed-martial-arts style to raise money for children’s organizations. Unfortunately, the match between Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi never took place because Pizzi was arrested on bribery charges following a federal sting investigation.
For editorial director Alicia Zuckerman, this story took the cake with this quote: “But the funny thing is that the Hialeah mayor, Carlos Hernandez, was so disappointed he actually said that he felt like he was a bride being left at the altar. Now he’s hoping to square off against another mayor in the county.”
This fall, Starr told USA Today he wanted to meet the teens he snapped a photo of in Miami in 1974. The announcement set off a public search, fueled by local media, to uncover the identities of the six people photographed in a car. But, as anchor Kelley Mitchell explains, the search hit a dead end in Miami. “Turns out it was in New York. And the only thing I can think of is: How do you mistake New York for Miami? Oh -- it was the ‘60s. Nobody remembers anything correctly.”
That’s right, a couple members of Congress cast their votes for former Rep. West for Speaker of the House even though West was no longer a member of Congress. Producer Elaine Chen says this story was not only weird, but also educational. “Apparently you don’t have to be a member of the House to be the Speaker.” Elaine has this message for current U.S. representatives: Feel free to elect her next time around.
The deck at Shuckers Bar and Grill caved in during a Miami Heat game. There were no deaths but several people were injured. Producer Julia Duba explains why she thinks this story was one of the weirdest of 2013: “I’ve lived in North Bay Village practically my whole life and Shuckers had been a favorite spot for my family for a long time. So this was indeed very weird.”
In the ongoing fight against invasive giant African (super) land snails, Florida this year added a new weapon to its arsenal: dogs. Not only can giant African land snails eat almost anything, including concrete, they also lay tens of thousands of eggs. Reporter Sammy Mack covered this story and says it’s the practical details that make it the craziest story of the year.
“When they find these snails, they treat them like hazardous waste. They literally freeze them to death and bury them deep within the earth. So that, just in case one of them survives the deep freeze, there’s not going to be more snails accidentally released into South Florida.”
Sammy predicts she’ll be talking about the return of the giant African zombie land snails this time next year.