Anonymous donors pay off Kmart layaway accounts

Posted Dec. 15, 2011, at 9:23 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 15, 2011, at 9:42 p.m.

OMAHA, Neb. — At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn’t afford, especially toys and children’s clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Before she left the store Tuesday evening, an Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.

Most of the donors have done their giving secretly.

Dozens of customers have received similar calls in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Montana. The benefactors generally ask to help families who are squirreling away items for young children. They often pay a portion of the balance, usually all but a few dollars or cents so the layaway order stays in the store’s system.

The phenomenon seems to have begun in Michigan before spreading, Kmart executives said.

Cable guy finds sleeping bear in NJ basement

HOPATCONG, N.J. — A cable TV repairman got quite a surprise when he walked into the basement of a New Jersey home.

There was a 500-pound bear sound asleep on the floor.

The bear had been spotted wandering in the neighborhood in Hopatcong earlier Wednesday. It’s not clear how it got into the home.

The bear ambled out of the house before state Fish and Game officials arrived.

WNBC-TV in New York reports the officials fired a tranquilizer dart at the animal, which walked a few blocks to the Missouri Trail before it was knocked out.

Officials plan to relocate the bear.

No one was injured.

India probes more than 100 deaths from illegal liquor

NEW DELHI — Indian officials ordered a criminal investigation Thursday after more than 120 people died within 48 hours of drinking tainted bootleg alcohol in the state of West Bengal. The death toll was expected to rise given that dozens of patients remain in area hospitals in critical condition.

The government of the eastern state promised to give $4,000 to each victim’s family and arrested seven people for allegedly selling the liquor, although those who manufactured it were reportedly on the run.

Indian television footage showed the corridor of a hospital in Sangrampur, about 20 miles south of Kolkata, packed with patients poisoned by the moonshine, some being shielded by family members to prevent their intravenous drips from getting knocked out by passing crowds. Beside them in the hallway, corpses awaited removal, including one with a numbered sticker on its forehead.

Most of those who died were rickshaw pullers, manual laborers and others living on the margin who drank the liquor at a series of thekas, makeshift roadside bars, supplied by the same illegal distillery.

French convict former leader Chirac of corruption

PARIS — As French president, Jacques Chirac was called all sorts of names, not the least for his vociferous opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Now, he has a moniker that will stick: convicted criminal.

The 79-year-old on Thursday became France’s first former leader to be convicted since Marshal Philippe Petain, who headed the Nazi collaborationist regime during World War II, in 1945. Chirac will not go to prison, but received a two-year suspended sentence for corruption linked to his 18-year term as the mayor of Paris.

Chirac was found guilty in two related cases involving 19 totally or partially fake jobs created for his benefit at the RPR party, which he led as Paris mayor from 1977 to 1995. He was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of trust, and illegal conflict of interest.

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