Strangest State: Cat Litter Mistaken for Meth, a Bathtub in a Tornado and World-Record Chili

Weird news from far-flung Texas.


A version of this story ran in the April 2017 issue.

illustration by Drue Wagner

MARION COUNTY // Charlesetta Williams, 75, and her son Ricky took shelter under a quilt in a bathtub as a tornado headed straight for their home outside Smithland. The twister blew the roof off their house and sent the tub flying. When it touched down in the woods, the Williams family was still inside, rattled but unscathed. “I’m a tell you, I don’t wanna ride through another one,” Charlesetta told KSLA.

ZAVALLA // Why steal a few firecrackers when you can make off with the whole stand? Joshua Byars, 27, was charged with third-degree theft after allegedly hitching a fireworks stand to his Dodge pickup and driving off into the sunset. According to KTRE, Byars tore off the stand’s roof and helped himself to $5,000 worth of fireworks before ditching the stand nearby. Unfortunately for him, he was also caught on surveillance tape while stopping to urinate outside a car wash.

AUSTIN // State Representative Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, filed a House resolution urging Texans to stop using the Chilean flag emoji as a substitute for the (admittedly similar) Texas flag. “Be it resolved that the 85th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby reject the notion that the Chilean flag, although it is a nice flag, can in any way compare to or be substituted for the official state flag of Texas,” the resolution concluded.

HOUSTON // Cypress resident Ross Lebeau, 24, spent three days behind bars after he was arrested for drug possession during a traffic stop. What police believed to be a half-pound of methamphetamine, however, turned out to be kitty litter. Lebeau told KTRK that he was keeping a sock stuffed with the suspicious substance in his car to prevent the windows from fogging up. Before the mix-up was discovered, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office bragged in a press release that it had scored a “significant narcotics arrest … [that] may have kept our children and our loved ones free from being introduced to drugs.”

SAN MARCOS // Nearly 300 Texas blind salamanders disappeared from a lab at the San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center during two separate break-ins. The endangered critters are kept in the facility as a backup that could someday replenish the wild population, which is limited to a 25-mile radius within the Edwards Aquifer. Center director Ken Ostrand told the Austin American-Statesman that the thief left no trace, adding that he was mystified as to why anyone would steal exotic animals. “Why would someone want tiger penis? Why would someone want shark fin? I don’t know,” Ostrand said.

LONGVIEW // Michael the miniature horse paid a Valentine’s Day visit to the residents of Whispering Pines Lodge nursing home, reports the Longview News-Journal. Wearing navy-blue sneakers, the 21-year-old pony distributed Valentine’s cards from his purple saddlebag as he trotted down the halls. Handler Kathleen Adams said her mission is to “share God’s love, four hoofbeats at a time.”

COLLEGE STATION // The Spirit of Texas Festival broke a Guinness World Record for the biggest batch of chili con carne ever cooked, according to KBTX. At 4,800 pounds, the steaming vat of chili was double the weight of the previous winner, which was cooked in Minto, North Dakota, in 2013. Plans to use the chili to break a second record for the world’s largest Frito pie were dashed due to rain.

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This article appears in the April 2017 issue of the Texas Observer. Read more from the issue or become a member now to see our reporting before it’s published online.