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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
West Jordan's Zach Bass and his sister Brittany look over "Jingle Buds" at Festival of Trees. The tree earned $500.

While the editors combined their brainpower to produce the Deseret Morning News' Top 10 story selections of 2003, another crack research team (consisting of approximately one lowly reporter) suffered spells of seasickness from studying reels of microfiche and acquired permanently ink-stained hands from poring through archives to come up with another year-end compilation.

Items in this collection of the Weirdest and Worst Local Stories of 2003 range from simply strange to fodder suitable for late-night talk shows. (It may or may not be a coincidence that Utah County seems to have more than its share of head-scratching items.)

The best part? After this sentence, you won't read a single word about Elizabeth Smart, a state leader turned environmentalist, a downtown dilemma over a park and preachy protesters, or about a road that supposedly used to be a main street in the big city.

And, by the way, this story is not sponsored by the Crossroads Nordstrom.

Weirdest case of crying wolf over a crime that never happened: After being reported missing, Kelvin Bailey, mayor of Eagle Mountain, called the Utah County Sheriff's Office a day later and claimed he'd been kidnapped while stopping to help a stranded motorist on a hunting trip. Bailey said he'd escaped his armed captor in Barstow, Calif. While meeting with detectives and FBI agents, however, the mayor admitted he was feeling pressure and unappreciated so he fabricated the carjacking story.

Weirdest case of crying wolf over a crime that never happened Part II: A 31-year-old pregnant Lehi woman in January admitted concocting her claim that she was attacked and stabbed by a man in a security guard uniform at her home.

Worst campaign-theme sequel: "Rocky II" is the undisputed champion — just ask Frank Pignanelli and MGM/United Artists, who considered taking legal action over the trademarked slogan in August. On the bright side, at least Mayor Anderson didn't sing "Eye of the Tiger."

Most flak over flag flaps: A Salt Lake City police officer was told to remove the U.S. flags from his patrol car by a supervisor because it could be deemed offensive to the public. After receiving national attention, the police department's policy was quickly revised/clarified to allow officers to display American flags. Later on, a Park City woman was warned by officers that she could be arrested for desecrating the Stars and Stripes because she placed a flag with a black peace sign on it on her front door to protest the war in Iraq.

Worst missionary story: Two men dressed as LDS missionaries — with name tags, white shirts and all — tried conning (instead of converting) an American Fork computer salesman. They claimed to be on an errand for a local bishop, saying he needed a computer for a disabled member of his congregation who had recently been robbed. One of the perpetrators later received a mission call of sorts — from the Utah County Jail.

Worst layover story/most likely to end up on "Dumb Criminals" special: During a two-hour stop on a cross-country bus trip, a 67-year-old New Jersey man allegedly decided to rob a Gateway jewelry store. While making his getaway dash with the cash, however, the man left his bus ticket and luggage in the taxi cab. His layover was prolonged after getting nabbed by authorities at the bus station.

Most unlikely candidates for Las Vegas tourism/art appreciation board: Members of the Nebo School District Board of Education, who re-rejected on moral grounds the request by Springville High's Russian language and art history students to visit rare art displays in Sin City hotels in January. Parents eventually chartered a bus for their Red Devils.

Worst signs of the times: In January, a Weber District school bus was pulled over in Utah County by a Utah Highway Patrol trooper after concerned passers-by noticed students holding up posters that said, "Help us!" (false alarm) and "Hannibal Lecter is on board!" (he wasn't).

Worst sign . . . of the beast? U.S. 666 — a supposedly satanic strip that spans 190 miles in southeastern Utah, Colorado and New Mexico — will no longer be known as "The Devil's Highway" or the route of all evil. Transportation authorities renamed it a less devilish "U.S. 491" in June.

Least likely to be named U.N. ambassador: Anybody from La Verkin.

Worst enemy of the finders-keepers theory: In February, Utah County resident James Joyner found a dropped bank deposit bag with $17,000 in it at a gas station — and he honestly returned it to the owner.

Best friend of the finders-keepers theory: Layton resident Corinne Turner bought a 99-cent wallpaper roll at a liquidation store in July and was stunned to find five paintings worth $6,000 inside it. She sold the art and donated a portion of the revenues to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. When he learned of her actions, the Italian artist, Pino Daeni, contributed 21 more paintings to help battle MS.

Most peculiar construction proposal: During groundbreaking ceremonies for a resort in May, Navajo Nation leaders proposed to bring a casino to the shores of Lake Powell in Page, Ariz. What next, turn the soiled Geneva Steel lands into a business park and residential community? Maybe make the Kennecott Copper Pit into a football stadium? (Oh, turns out there are plans for cleaning up Utah Lake's neighbor but none so far for the pigskin project.)

Worst moonlighting gig: Two Salt Lake Tribune staffers lose jobs and credibility after accepting $10,000 each for information, some of it false, published in a controversial National Enquirer article dealing with the kidnapped girl whose name we promised not to mention again in this story.

Worst thing for those with appetites for afternoon news: The Deseret News becomes the Deseret Morning News, putting itself on the new and vastly improved breakfast menu in June.

Worst thing for those with appetites for veggies: Last summer's Rainbow Family Gathering in the Uintas — at least, if reports of some traveling neo-hippies washing their hair over produce in grocery stores (and then swiping the spoiled goods after they were thrown out) were true.

Best thing for those with appetites for veggies: Most of the thousands of tie-dyed travelers didn't exactly appear to be too concerned with hair hygiene.

Best reason for feds not to play with matches: Tempers and flames flared in September when 8,000 acres of forest at Cascade Springs in Wasatch County were scorched after U.S. Forest Service personnel lost control of a prescribed fire.

Best reason to send wedding invitations: Some BYU students freaked out and called police when their roommate didn't come home one April night. She showed up the next day after having eloped to Las Vegas. FYI, her new husband was not on the Nebo School District board.

Worst soup ingredient: West Jordan resident Tina Keeney sued Campbell's Soup Co. after finding chicken, noodles, broth and a human molar in the soup she was feeding her 13-month-old son.

Most dicey way to decide election winner: Both Washington Terrace mayoral candidates ended up with 724 votes, so the Weber County town determined the winner by rolling dice. Rumors that mayor Mark Allen yelled "Yahtzee!" after winning are still unconfirmed.

Best reason to stop singing "Let it snow!": Turn on the lights (if you can) and look outside (if you can see over the snowdrifts).

Weirdest fireworks before the fireworks: Much-publicized flap about Provo's Stadium of Fire inviting popular, ultra-conservative radio host Sean Hannity to be the emcee for the Fourth of July show.

Worst potty training side-effect: Seventeen-month-old Ella Mae Wallace knocked her mom's wedding ring into the toilet and flushed. But the would-be cruddy story had a happy ending thanks to Salt Lake City water and sewer employees Joshua Braithwaite and Kimball Rigby. They dug up sludge (and other stuff) for 40 minutes and amazingly found Tracey Wallace's reeky ring (and other stuff).

Worst way to think inside the box: Searching for a fugitive with 22 arrest warrants, police scoured a Springville storage facility to no avail — that is, until they lifted the lid of a 2-foot-square cardboard box and were amazed to find Trisa Lynn Johnson stuffed inside.

Most tax exemptions: Bob Memmot and Corinne Hanks of Mapleton got hitched in June but might still need name tags to familiarize themselves with their new family. The pair, both previously married, make the Osmonds look like a small family as they now claim 26 children between them, ranging in age from 13 to 34, along with 13 children-in-law and 34 grandchildren.

Best reason to fight/saddest loss: Heavyweight fighter Brad Rone died in July during a boxing match with Billy Zumbrun in Cedar City. The most heartbreaking part: Rone agreed to the bout to earn money for the funeral of his mother, who passed away earlier that week.

Weirdest pairing of "belly" stories: After controversial public debates, Salt Lake City Council members decided not to crack down on ice cream trucks, and the Salt Lake County Council decided to partially fund the Kismet Dance Company's belly-dancing troupe with arts tax money.

Weirdest things brewing: The Festival of Trees made national news in December when a group of family and friends created a tree named "Jingle Buds" out of 1,500-plus empty cans of Bud Lite beer. Organizers made them cover up the cans with ribbon. Still, the tree ended up earning $500 for Primary Children's Medical Center.

In the summer, the president of Wasatch Beer and 10 other self-proclaimed "colonialists" dressed up like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others from the era and staged a protest against higher beer taxes at the Great Salt Lake that was supposed to resemble the Boston Tea Party. They sprayed "First Amendment Lager" on the shores. It's unknown how much tax their wasted beer earned for the state.

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