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Offbeat Stories

2013 review: Tampa had its share of strange

Published:   |   Updated: December 20, 2013 at 04:52 PM

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Florida is a bonanza for late-night comedians because the strangest news stories seem to happen here, and the Tampa Bay area isn’t immune from this phenomenon.

From rodents knocking out power to people swallowing diamonds, we locals seem to provide lots of fodder for comics and social media shares.

Here, then, in chronological order, are some of the top strange stories that occurred locally over the past 12 months:

Juan Panesso, a cigar aficionado who runs CigarsDirect.com, an online cigar shop, sold the cigar, nearly 19 feet long and more than 3 feet wide, to a private collector.

A half-million water customers had to boil their drinking water for days after a rodent, believed to be a squirrel, gnawed its way through a power line and knocked out electricity to a water treatment facility.

The Tampa Bay Rays apologized after photos of mascot Raymond holding a fan’s sign that humorously alluded to the death of Steve Irwin, TV’s “Crocodile Hunter,” circulated on the Internet. It was a strange year for Raymond, who also was attacked by a Boston Red Sox fan in September.

A woman attending a charity event where a diamond was placed in a champagne glass found the gem, but unfortunately she only found out she had after swallowing it. Her story was so widespread she was invited to appear on “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

A local restaurant caused an uproar when it offered lion-meat tacos. While the notoriety gave the business nationwide publicity, it didn’t help it keep its Ybor City location from closing in October.

A kangaroo that led authorities on a lengthy chase in Lacoochee was caught in Pasco County with the help of a former wrestler. Sadly, the marsupial, which escaped from a breeder, died a few days after his adventure.

FishHawk resident Jenna Conti, “The FishHawk Mermaid,” was told to leave the pool at the Aquatic Club of FishHawk Ranch because of a no-fin rule. Despite pleading her case, the FishHawk board voted to keep her out of the pool based on the policy.

World-famous competitive eater Joey Chestnut turned away 15 challengers by downing 179 wings within 10 minutes at Hooters’ original location, 2800 Gulf to Bay Blvd. Clearwater.

A video of Zephyrhills High School Principal Andy Frelick appearing to break up a fight by tackling the aggressor went viral. Frelick, however, said he wasn’t tackling the student — he had merely tripped while rushing over to stop the fight.

A mall was closed and locked down after a man decided to spread his late fiancee’s ashes at a place that was special to her: Lenscrafters.

You’ve heard of people keeping alligators for pets but rarely do you hear of one on a leash and tethered to a tree like a junkyard dog, like the one behind the Rivertree Landing Apartments off Sligh Avenue, east of 56th Street.

Chief Jane Castor lost the tip of her shooting finger in July during a boating accident, but the new prosthetic tip is mostly cosmetic, not for firearms.

Richard Coley, 61, lives in St. Petersburg but has made his retirement into a Chick-fil-A pilgrimage. He has attended 110 openings of a fast-food chicken chain in 26 states from California to the East Coast.

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