What's the most bizarre thing that happened in or around Palo Alto in 2013? The Palo Alto Weekly staff took a look back over the year's events and selected the following for their weirdness or zaniness. Don't try this stuff at home.
THE CHECHEN CONNECTION ... Stefan Dombovic, 21, was arrested April 21 after he lost control of his vehicle and crashed down an embankment, following a car chase. He pleaded not guilty to quite a list of offenses: robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism, car burglary, possession of stolen property and reckless driving. "He was ordered out of the car, and he yelled to the officers in a Russian accent, 'This has nothing to do with Boston,'" said San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti. Dombovic, a Chechen who lives in Palo Alto, was arrested less than two weeks after Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev detonated home-made bombs at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., killing three and injuring more than 250. The officers found 129 pieces of mail in Dombovic's car from 18 local addresses. The Sheriff's Office report adds that Dombovic "forcibly entered" three mailboxes, using a baseball bat. The bizarre string of incidents began when a 13-year-old Portola Valley boy reading in his bedroom heard a car come down the driveway of his home and park near his room. He went outside, saw a man rummaging through his father's vehicle and asked the man what he was doing. Dombovic allegedly yelled and charged at the boy with an aluminum baseball bat, hitting him in the shoulder, Guidotti said. Dombovic then allegedly fled in a sport utility vehicle and was driving on the wrong side of the road with the car lights off when deputies spotted him. A car chase followed, with Dombovic's car accelerating to 60 miles per hour, Guidotti said. Deputies "determined that he was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage," the Sheriff's Office reported.
SEAL FEVER ... A baby harbor seal that was stranded in the water of the Palo Alto harbor was rescued by Palo Alto Animal Services April 9, prompting a rash of adorable photos and articles in local papers (yes, the Weekly was guilty, too). The 14-pound pup was caught up against the harbor's flood gate at high tide. A hiker heard the pup's cries as the seal bobbed up and down near the concrete wall, its head periodically disappearing under the water, Animal Services Officer William Warrior said. Climbing down the flood gate, Warrior and another officer lifted the black-and-silver pup out of the water using a net and brought the seal to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Palo Alto. Jim Oswald, a spokesman for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, said the female pup, which they named Floodgate Dolly, was about 5 weeks old but not in good health. Harbor seal pups are weaned from their mothers when they're between 4 and 6 weeks. Weeks after the local media's baby seal fever broke, however, Floodgate Dolly died.
A MODEST PROPOSAL ... An April report from Palo Alto's independent police auditor had no smoking guns or damning allegations, but it did contain an incident involving a dating faux pas committed by an unnamed officer. The officer responded to a call in 2012 involving a domestic dispute between a man and a woman. On scene, the officer was told the woman had drunk alcohol that evening, and the man was concerned about her ability to drive. She ended up taking a cab, and no criminal charges were filed. The following day, the man and the woman met up and patched things up. They were both embarrassed by the incident and by the fact that they had inconvenienced the police. According to the report, the woman contacted one of the officers involved "to express her remorse about the incident." He was out, and she left a voicemail message with her cell number. Several days later, she received a text message from the officer. "Drinks?" it read. That's when things got a little awkward. According to the report, the woman was offended ("It had not been her intention to cultivate a personal relationship with the officer") and filed a complaint against the cop, who was then counseled by department management about the inappropriate nature of his text. The audit determined that the department handled the issue "quickly and appropriately."
HOW NOT TO HITCH A RIDE ... A motorist pumping gas at the Shell gas station on Embarcadero Road was kidnapped and forced to drive an allegedly drunk man away from an accident early in the morning of Aug. 1. The incident began at about 1:16 a.m. after an off-duty police officer witnessed a car crashing into a city light pole on West Bayshore Road, just south of Channing Avenue, police Agent Marianna Villaescusa said. The officer stopped to aid the driver and called police units to the scene. Upon seeing the squad cars, the driver, Antonio Jorge Ruiz, 25, of Redwood City, left the location on foot. He approached a driver who had been pumping gas at the Embarcadero Shell Station and asked for a ride. The victim said no and started to roll up his windows. Ruiz allegedly reached into the partially opened rear window, opened the locked door and, once in the back seat, ordered the male motorist to drive. The victim was afraid he would be harmed and complied, Villaescusa said. He drove Ruiz only about 1/4 mile, after which Ruiz jumped out and fled on foot. Police located him in the area and he was arrested. He was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose on charges of driving under the influence, felony kidnapping, hit and run and delaying and obstructing an officer in an investigation.
THIEF RAPPREHENDED ... The real estate business lends itself to financial rather than criminal excitement, or at least it's supposed to. But local developer Roxy Rapp and his son found themselves chasing a thief through Menlo Park streets on Aug. 15. Rapp had reported the theft of a security camera to Menlo Park police on Aug. 14. The camera, taken from Rapp's new building at 1706 El Camino Real, had managed to download a photo of the culprit before vanishing, according to the report. The next day Rapp and his son spotted the alleged thief on the street. A chase ensued, ending with the capture of 51-year-old David Shippen, of Palo Alto, the report said. Police then took Shippen into custody. The developer is president of Roxy Rapp & Company, located in downtown Palo Alto.
NICE DEFENSE ... NBA standout Jeremy Lin was on the clock Sept. 16 as he faced off against a nervous-looking Palo Alto mayor in front of a crowd of very eager, and very young, onlookers. On a small, new basketball court outside the unfinished Mitchell Park Library, Lin had two minutes to score against the basket's lone defender. Doing so, city officials had decided, would "initiate" the court, to be played on for many years to come. His first shot, a fade away over the head of steadfast defender Greg Scharff who wore dress pants and a button-up shirt with rolled-up sleeves fell far short of the basket. JLS Middle School students who were watching sighed, disappointed. "C'mon, Jeremy -- shake and bake!" one shouted. With some fancy footwork and dribbling, Lin juked Scharff's jerky movements before shooting again, earning "ooohs" and "ahs" from the crowd. But this time the ball bounced off the rim. For his third shot, Lin planted, tossed the ball in clean arc and swooshed it to the applause of children, city staff and parents at the event. Lin, a former JLS and Palo Alto High School student, spent the rest of his time Monday making passes to the kids, answering questions, and putting his signature on everything from kids' basketballs, pictures, scraps of paper and even the back of one particularly ardent fan's grubby "Linsanity" T-shirt. As Lin left, Scharff intercepted him to shake his hand."Thanks so much for coming out," Scharff said. "Thanks," Lin said. "Nice defense."
PANCAKE PARIAH ... When 27,000 Palo Alto residents received an emergency alert telling them that the fire department would host a pancake breakfast the next day, some residents were peeved about what they perceived to be a misuse of department resources. The story oozed like syrup into the national spotlight and sizzled on mediums from cable news outlets to NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! comedy show. The department's text message read: "AlertSCC: Palo Alto Firefighters will be hosting a Community Pancake Breakfast Saturday October 12th, please find us on Facebook and Twitter for more details." A minute later, recorded phone messages went out. Several residents voiced their disapproval on Palo Alto Online's Town Square. "Maybe them pancakes are really, really good?" said one. Fire Chief Eric Nickel explained: "One of our concerns was that we were landing a helicopter at Walter Hays Elementary School in a residential neighborhood on a Saturday. We were concerned that we would get lots of calls to 911 that would jam up the lines. We thought that we would do the alert on Friday to not wake people up," he said. The 27,000 notifications generated 13 complaints. The issue has caused him to review procedures, he said.