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Missing gecko, close call in a shower among 2021's strange Nebraska stories
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Weird news of 2021

Missing gecko, close call in a shower among 2021's strange Nebraska stories

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Officials at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium on Tuesday announced the pregnancy of a second elephant in the herd.

Stories about a missing gecko at an Omaha elementary school and a giant snow woman that stopped traffic caught the attention of World-Herald readers this past year.

Snow woman

Ben Taggett, left, and Ken Kirkpatrick make adjustments to Quarantina’s Hawaiian-themed outfit in January. Kirkpatrick’s front yard in the Westgate neighborhood hosted the 20-foot snow woman.

Bold and brassy, a 20-foot-tall snow woman dubbed Quarantina wore only a hula skirt, a pie pan bra, a scarf and a medical mask back in January. Her size and outfit make for lots of double takes in Omaha’s Westgate neighborhood.

“We get a lot of people stopping and taking pictures,” said Ken Kirkpatrick, whose front yard northwest of the intersection of 72nd and Grover Streets hosted the imposing figure.

Missing gecko raises hackles

Omaha police were called to investigate whether a Millard Central Middle School student had been assaulted over the apparent death of a science class gecko. The incident, officers were told, occurred about 5:20 p.m. Sept. 13 during a football game at the school at 12801 L St.

A 13-year-old boy told police that he had been assaulted by a 13-year-old girl because the gecko — a small lizard — was missing, and some classmates were saying that he had killed it.

The boy said he was standing in the concessions area during the football game when the girl approached him, accused him of killing the gecko and slapped his face with an open hand before running off. Another 13-year-old boy told police that he had witnessed the incident.

Police spoke to the alleged assailant the next morning at the school. She told police that she was upset by the gecko’s possible demise and admitted she had slapped the boy.

At the end of the police report, the officer wrote, “There is one happy note the gecko was found in his cage Tuesday morning safe and sound.”

Bullets in the bathroom

A 34-year-old Omaha woman was in the shower Aug. 16 when a bullet from an AR-15 ripped through her bathroom wall from a neighboring apartment.

Police called to the scene said the bullet came through the bathroom wall about a foot from the shower, shattered a standing mirror and exited through another wall before lodging in a living room wall. The incident occurred about 11 p.m. at Cambridge Villas apartments just south of 167th Street and West Dodge Road.

Officers contacted the 29-year-old next-door neighbor and learned that he had been “practicing reloads” with a Daniel Defense model DDM4 AR-15 rifle. The man said he thought the magazine was empty when the gun went off.

The gun owner was ticketed on suspicion of discharging a firearm within the city limits.

Rain turns elevator into pool

When the descending elevator started to shudder, Tony Luu and his two friends knew that they were headed in the wrong direction.

The trio were among seven people rescued the night of Aug. 7 from two flooded elevators in an Old Market apartment building. Flash flooding from torrential rains had inundated low-lying areas of the metro area, and theirs was the biggest scare of the night.

Luu said he and two female friends were watching the storm about 10 p.m. when they decided to see if there were any problems in the basement. The flooding was so intense, he said, a river of water was pouring down the street, past the Old Market Lofts at 1011 Jones St.

“I guess we were just curious. We didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “Now I know to be a little bit more cautious about weather, flooding.”

The first sign that something was wrong was when the elevator began shaking. The trio tried pushing buttons to stop the elevator, but nothing worked. As the elevator continued toward the basement, water gushed around their feet.

The water rose to their knees, then their waists, chests and necks.

Luu contacted his roommate on FaceTime. His friends called 911. The roommate, his brother and another man raced to help.

When the three men opened the door to the basement, they were greeted by water up to their chest.

With the three men working on the outside of the elevator and Luu pulling from the inside, they got the elevator doors open.

On the other side of the building, another elevator also was stuck and filling with water. Firefighters there were able to rescue four people inside.

That has got to hurt

Traffic safety officials always say you shouldn’t drive while distracted. More specifically, you shouldn’t drive while talking to your friend on the phone, eating Taco Bell and holding a knife.

Unfortunately, a 39-year-old Omaha man did that Sept. 2 and inadvertently stabbed himself in the leg.

The man had picked up some food at the Taco Bell near 38th and Dodge Streets just before 2 a.m. and was on his way to give some to his girlfriend, according to a police report.

As he was eating and driving, he later told police, he was talking to a friend via Bluetooth speaker and looking at a knife that his friend gave him. He then drove through a large pothole or hit a bump on the road. The jolt “made him accidentally stab his right thigh with the knife,” the police report said. The man was left with a 1- to 1½-inch-deep puncture wound in the top of his right thigh.

The man then headed to the nearby Nebraska Medical Center for treatment.

Having a blast

A homemade explosive device gouged out a large hole in a hallway floor of a Lincoln apartment building.

About 2:30 a.m. June 28, Lincoln police officers were called to an apartment building near Second and Adams Streets, east of the Lincoln Airport, to investigate a report of possible gunshots. They found broken windows in the building’s common areas and smoke hanging in the air.

Officers also found a hole in a hallway floor measuring 6 inches by 18 inches deep. Residents told officers that an explosive device had been thrown into the hallway following a disturbance between neighbors.

A Lincoln fire inspector determined that the damage was caused by a homemade explosive equivalent to half a stick of dynamite. The building sustained about $600 in damage.

Not the best place to commit a crime

broken window

A window at the Omaha Police Department’s headquarters was shattered Aug. 12 by a chunk of concrete. A witness said a man smashed the window and sat down outside to await arrest.

A 38-year-old man was accused of using a chunk of concrete the morning of Aug. 12 to smash a full-length window in the entryway to the Omaha Police Department’s headquarters.

The incident occurred about 8:30 a.m., according to a witness. The man, who did not have an Omaha address, then turned and sat down in the courtyard of the building at 505 S. 15th St., the witness said. Within seconds, police officers responded and arrested the man on suspicion of felony criminal mischief over $5,000.

Rhino on the loose

A rhinoceros at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium briefly escaped its enclosure on Sept. 7 to graze in a behind-the-scenes area outside of the rhino barn.

Zoo officials think the rhino, 13-year-old Jontu, nosed open a latch on a door that wasn’t locked properly.

The public was never in danger, but zoogoers were asked to leave some areas or shelter in buildings.

Zoo staff barricaded any possible exit paths the rhino could have taken with trucks and the zoo’s tram. Keepers tossed apples and shook leafy treats to get Jontu’s attention and turn him toward the rhino barn.

After about 40 minutes of grazing, Jontu willingly walked back into the barn.

Bryan High makes mascot change

Administrators at Bryan High School decided to clarify just what type of bear the school’s mascot is.

They opted for the panda.

And they made the announcement on April 1.

Some students, staff and alums at the Omaha Public Schools high school fell into the April Fools’ Day trap. But others quickly realized it was a prank.

Either way, it led to plenty of laughs.

Baby born in hospital parking garage

Brian Cabalar is known for his jokes and pranks around the house.

But when Dad said he delivered the newest addition to the family — in the hospital parking garage to boot — it was no tall tale.

With some help from one of the hospital’s environmental services managers, Cabalar delivered baby Astrid in the parking garage of the Nebraska Medical Center on March 11.

Mom Nicole Rollo thought labor with Astrid would be routine, similar to her last delivery.

Pop stolen from GOP offices, but not cake

The person who broke into the downtown Lincoln offices of the Nebraska Republican Party took two 2-liter bottles of pop out of the fridge but left a perfectly good chocolate cake untouched.

Around 5 a.m. Friday, the camera system of the building at 1610 N St. detected someone using a brick to break seven office windows along an alley, said Ryan Hamilton, the Nebraska GOP’s executive director. Then, around 2 a.m. Saturday, someone Hamilton suspected was the same person entered the offices for about four or five minutes and took a bottle of A&W Root Beer and a bottle of Sprite.

The state party has been doing some voter outreach and had a chocolate cake in the refrigerator, he said, but the person left that behind.

Lincoln police came over Saturday and lifted fingerprints off the light switch and took all the office’s security recordings, Hamilton said.

Temperature Tuesday leads to record Runza sales

Vehicles overflowed drive-thru lanes at area Runzas on Feb. 9 for the fast-food restaurant’s Temperature Tuesday promotion.

On Temperature Tuesdays in January and February, the temperature at 6 a.m. is the price of a Runza sandwich — when purchased with an order of medium french fries and a medium drink.

That day the temp was minus 13 degrees, meaning Runza sandwiches were free as part of the deal.

Runza’s official Instagram account noted that the chain sold a total of 83,386 sandwiches, with an average of 958 sold per location. It’s a “new record in a big way,” according to the Instagram account.

Very overdue book returned to library

While shelving recently returned books, Omaha librarians uncovered a book that was overdue by decades.

The book, “Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook,” was supposed to have been returned July 29, 1970. It was returned to the library’s downtown Omaha branch in late March 2021.

At 50 years, the book was the most overdue book to have been returned to the library in recent years. It still held book cards inside, showing due dates from each time it was checked out.

Because of the book’s age — and the mystery surrounding the patron who dropped it off — the library didn’t impose a fine.

“We just kind of had to laugh,” said the library’s marketing manager, Emily Getzschman.


kevin.cole@owh.com, 402-444-1272

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