Let's Reminisce: The Darwin Awards
By Jerry Lincecum
Jan 23, 2018
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The end of a calendar year is the proper occasion for taking stock and recognizing those who have made outstanding contributions.  Nominees for the 90th Academy Awards in film have been made, and we will find out the winners on March 4.  There are numerous other annual awards, however, and one set I find especially interesting is the Darwin awards, named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution.  They memorialize individuals who improved the human gene poll by removing themselves from it in ways that exemplify exceptionally stupid behavior.

For example, among the 2017 winners is a pair who chose an unfortunate location for a smartphone selfie: an airport runway. They were attending horse races held on a track adjacent to the runway, and the noise of the races plus their desire for a new profile picture distracted the young women. They did not hear the motor of the descending aircraft, and the wing of the small plane struck and killed them instantly. Some of you will recall that I wrote a column a few weeks ago asserting that smartphones make us dumber.  I rest my case.

Here’s one that deserves the title “Grim Roofer.” A burglar removed a few roofing shingles and climbed into the roof of a chemist shop in Queensbury, England. On his way down, the man became stuck and was strangled by his own clothes. The asphyxiated pill seeker was found several weeks later and well into decomposition.

Breaking into a ticketing machine at the train station was supposed to buy a young German man a free ride to the good life, but instead he lost his life in an explosion that ripped the metal front panel off the machine.  He was seen spraying aerosol cans of gas into the machine and then igniting it. Safety measures as simple as wearing a leather jacket and motorcycle helmet might have changed the outcome.

In the town of Plumtree in southwestern Zimbabwe, three male humans and three male elephants combined to win the first 2017 Darwin Award.  Mr. Moses Ndlovu spotted some elephants in the bush, and he and two friends began to drive the elephants into a clearing.  A large bull elephant and two younger males came charging out of the shrubbery, headed for the provoking men. What happened next tested the old truism, "I don't have to outrun that elephant, I just have to outrun you." The men took off running, each frantic to save himself. Moses, lagging behind, was trampled to death by the angry bull while his friends escaped.

In Rouen, France, at 1:30 AM a 47-year-old man attempted to leave his room by climbing down the ethernet cable. He chose this strategy because his concerned mother had locked him in his room to prevent him from intoxicating himself.  His weight was too much for the cable and he crashed to the street from the 9th-story apartment. Doctors were unable to resuscitate him.

I have saved the best for last.  Although it occurred in 1990, this attempt at a crime spree has been named an all-time Great Darwin winner.  It appeared to be the would-be robber's first effort, as evidenced by his lack of a previous record of violence and his terminally stupid choices:
1. His target was H&J Leather & Firearms. A gun shop.
2. The shop was full of customers: firearms customers.
3. To enter the shop, the robber had to step around a marked police car parked at the front door.
4. A uniformed police officer was standing at the counter, having coffee before work.
5. Upon seeing the officer, the would-be robber announced a holdup, and fired a few wild shots. The officer and a clerk promptly returned fire, covered by several customers who also drew their guns, thereby removing the confused criminal from the gene pool.  No one else was hurt.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories.  Email him at