Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Darwin Awards

In 1993, a student at Stanford University named Wendy Northcutt began collecting unusual stories about the foolish actions of her fellow human beings and sent them to her friends. Thus the annual Darwin Awards, given to individuals who "remove themselves from the gene pool in the most spectacular manner," came into being.

To be honored with the Darwin Award one must behave in an extraordinarily idiotic manner. Death is not required. The honoree must merely be removed from the gene pool (unable to procreate).

Past honorees include a man in North Carolina who jumped out of an airplane without a parachute to film skydivers, a man in Croatia who juggled live hand grenades and a person who used a cigarette lighter to examine a fuel tank to see if it contained any flammable vapors.

The 1996 Darwin Award winner, Garry Hoy, 39, was a lawyer demonstrating the safety of the windows of the Dominion Bank Tower in Toronto. Explaining the window strength to visiting law students, he took a run at the window and crashed through a pane with his shoulder, landing in the courtyard 24 floors below.

A man named Phil in New Zealand was a Darwin Award finalist in 2003. He needed to make repairs under his car but when he jacked it up there wasn't enough room to work so he removed the car's battery and mounted the jack on top of it. The battery collapsed trapping Phil underneath, rendering him unable to breathe. As often happens with Darwin Awards, there was plenty of irony involved. Phil was the Accident Prevention Officer at a large factory. Several years earlier he had been working under a car when the jack collapsed, breaking his leg.

Another 2003 finalist was a man from Kansas whose car broke down on Interstate 35. He stepped away from the busy freeway to call for help on his cell phone. Unfortunately, he was now standing on railroad tracks. The railroad engineer later explained that the man was holding the cell phone to one ear and had his other hand cupping his other ear to block the noise of the oncoming train. The train was not damaged in the collision.

At approximately 3:00 a.m. one winter night/morning, David Hubal, 22, and some of his buddies hiked up a ski run called Stump Alley on Mammoth Mountain in northern California. On the way up the slope, they removed some foam pads from one of the lift towers. Using the pads to slide down the ski slope, Hubel crashed into one of the ski towers and died. Naturally and ironically, it was the very tower where the foam pads had been removed.

My favorite Darwin Award winners are (the late) John Pernicky and (the late) Sal Hawkins from the state of Washington. After consuming 18 beers, they decided to attend a Metallica concert. Since they had no tickets, they figured they could sneak into the show and backed their truck up to the nine-foot fence. Pernicky weighed 100 pounds more than Hawkins so he went first, failing to notice the 30-foot drop on the other side.

Pernicky heaved himself over the fence, crashed into a tree, breaking his arm, and was abruptly halted when his shorts became snagged by a large branch. Dangling from the tree with a broken arm, he spotted a clump of bushes below. Using his pocket knife, he cut away his shorts to free himself and promptly landed in the prickly holly bushes where he became thoroughly scratched by sharp leaves and impaled by holly branches. Plus his pocket knife had somehow penetrated three inches into his thigh.

Hawkins, seeing his buddy in distress, quickly tied a rope to the back of the pickup truck and tossed the line down to Pernicky. But in his drunken haste, Hawkins threw the truck into reverse, crashed through the fence and landed squarely on his buddy, putting him out of his misery. Hawkins was thrown 100 feet from the truck and died of massive internal injuries. When the police removed the truck from atop Pernicky, they discovered a half naked body with multiple contusions, a knife in his thigh and his shorts dangling from a tree branch 25 feet in the air.

When it comes to idiotic behavior, it only takes a couple of stooges and 18 beers to get the ball rolling.

The 2009 Darwin winner was an amateur rocket scientist in Arizona who attached a JATO unit (a solid rocket engine) to his 1967 Chevy Impala and went out into the desert on a long, straight stretch of road for a demonstration. The JATO reached its maximum thrust in 5 seconds, causing the Chevy to immediately attain a speed in excess of 350 miles per hour and continued at full throttle for another 20-25 seconds, reaching a speed of 420 mph. The car remained on the road for about 2.5 miles. The driver melted the brakes, blowing the tires, then went airborne for an additional 1.4 miles whereupon it smashed into the face of a cliff at a height of 125 feet. A fingernail and bone shards were removed from a chunk of debris believed to be the steering wheel.

Some Darwin winners expire in acts of stupidity, others go out in a blaze of glory.

I once owned a 1967 Chevy Camaro -- canary yellow with a black vinyl roof. I never got it up beyond 120 MPH though. But then again, my mama didn’t raise any rocket scientists.

Quote for the Day -- “A child of five would understand this -- send someone to fetch a child of five.” Groucho Marx

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where idiots roam free. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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