ORLANDO, Fla. – No matter what part of the world you live in, 2020 has been an odd and confusing year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and all the misery it brought with it, but if you call Florida home, things were even weirder.
On top of the aforementioned COVID-related pitfalls, the Sunshine State also had to deal with the ever-troublesome Florida man, an unusual amount of alligators and some things that are just too bizarre to try to fit into a neat little list.
As we prepare to head into hopefully what will be a better and brighter 2021, we’re taking a look back at some of the strangest things that happened in Florida this year.
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1. Mask melees
There was a point in time where nearly every week there was a headline about some kind of confrontation, usually in a grocery store, over masks or social distancing guidelines. There was this suspect who reportedly said he “snapped” before he beat, kicked and spit on an elderly man who asked him to social distance at a gas station. Then there was this elderly man who was attacked outside Publix for asking a woman to step 6 feet away while in line. At Costco, a man screamed and clenched his fists yet claimed he felt threatened when another shopper asked him to wear a mask. Let’s not forget this guy, who by the way wasn’t charged, for allegedly pulling a gun at Walmart after another shopper asked him to put on a mask. And it wasn’t just the general public who was on the receiving end during these disputes. Deputies were coughed on multiple times as were store employees, a brain tumor patient and even a child in one case.
2. Chewed up and spit out
Around this same time when many were even afraid to go grocery shopping for fear of falling ill, some Floridians thought it’d be funny to tamper with everyday food items at the store. In one case, police say a woman went to a Holly Hill Walmart selected some guavas, oranges and other edibles, chewed the fruit and spit the masticated chunks right back into the bins, destroying $350 worth of produce. Records show that her reply was, “I don’t know, just cause” when asked why on Earth she’d do something like that, especially in the middle of a pandemic. In the same vein, there was also this woman who was accused of spitting on groceries at a Largo Publix and threatening anyone who tried to make her stop. While we’re on the topic of things that should remain saliva-free, there was this Florida woman who filmed herself licking a toilet seat “on a sugar daddy’s plane” in what she dubbed the “coronavirus challenge.”
The fact that this wasn’t a bigger story for a longer period of time tells you just how weird 2020 really was. In January, which seems like a decade ago, Volusia County deputies say a woman grabbed a bucket of human feces that just so happened to be in her trailer and doused her landlord, absolutely drenching the 65-year-old woman and herself in the process. The suspect must have cleaned up before her mugshot because in the bodycam video, you can definitely see the aftermath of the feces fight.
4. Dirty politics
The suspect above wasn’t the only person who got a bit dirty this year since it seems some of Florida’s politicians were just as mischievous. Most notable of the bunch is former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, who politely stepped down from office after being accused of stalking a political opponent, using customers’ information to create fake IDs with his picture on them and accessing state databases to recruit and solicit an underage girl for sex. He’s pleaded not guilty, but we’ll find out the actual verdict when he stands trial in March. Now that he’s out of office, an audit found that he misspent millions of dollars in taxpayer money on things like body armor and sprinklers to spray petitioners. Another politician who came under scrutiny was former North Miami Beach Commissioner Frantz Pierre, who was sentenced for accepting bribes from a strip club owner so he would vote to allow extended after-hours liquor sales. Just as odd, Andrew Gillum, who was very close to being elected governor, was found in a South Beach hotel room with crystal meth in March, although he claimed the drugs weren’t his. The 2018 gubernatorial candidate has since gone to rehab.
5. Not your usual Peter Cottontail
Easter came early in Flagler County when residents found tiny plastic eggs stuffed in their mailboxes. While that might normally seem like a nice surprise, they were shocked when they realized the eggs actually contained pornography, a fish-shaped cracker, a sheet of toilet paper and a powdered drink mix. Deputies said they eventually determined that about 400 eggs were placed in all and Abril Cestoni was responsible for the unusual crime. Body camera video shows she tried to use religion to justify her actions, claiming that she was a church and had been conducting research on local clergy, but deputies weren’t buying that excuse.
6. Too saucy
Fast food restaurants were about as safe as grocery stores this year, just ask Maguire Marie McLaughlin, who reportedly went to a McDonald’s at about 3:45 a.m. New Year’s Day and demanded a sauce of each flavor to go along with her meal only to be told she’d need to fork over some spare change to pay for the condiments. Deputies said the sauce surcharge sent McLaughlin over the edge and she threatened to rob the McDonald’s and said she would get the sauce by “whatever means necessary.” Over at Checker’s in Largo, police said a 49-year-old man screamed at employees and beat on the glass window of the drive-thru because someone forgot to put lettuce on his sandwich. On a lighter note, ground broke in November in Orlando’s tourist district on what will soon be the world’s largest White Castle, so there’s that.
7. Medical malpractice
If there’s one thing we learned this year, it’s to get your medical advice from actual doctors. Not politicians, not your neighbors and definitely not from Facebook. Federal officials in July said they arrested a man and his two sons who were selling glorified bleach and marketing it as a cure for COVID-19, cancer, autism, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and pretty much every other ailment under the sun. The “Mineral Miracle Solution,” as it was called, was actually toxic on top of not being able to cure any modern illnesses, according to authorities. Just as ridiculous, an Okeechobee County commissioner was forced to issue an apology for telling his constituents that they could rid themselves of the coronavirus simply by blowing a hair dryer up their nose. He said “the virus just falls apart and disintegrates” from the heat. Turns out, it doesn’t.
8. The most sought-after item
First in March and then again in November, toilet paper went flying off the shelves due to COVID-related panic buying. Luckily TP is in good supply now but the wave of shortages definitely left their mark on 2020. Fueling that shortage was people like this woman who purchased every last square from a Dollar Tree then yelled “Go Donald Trump,” when other shoppers questioned her apparent greed -- although she claimed it was for a charitable cause. As a monumental tribute to the toilet paper hoarding, one Florida man hung a giant roll in his front yard for all to see at a time when he was down to his last three rolls.
9. Disney disasters
It’s not that Disney did anything wrong, the blame here lies on guests like Richard McGuire, a man accused of camping on Walt Disney World’s Discovery Island during the theme park’s coronavirus closure. Discovery Island has been defunct since 1999 and according to body camera video, the overgrown greenery made the manhunt even more difficult. When he was taken into custody, McGuire told deputies that the island was a “tropical paradise” and he planned to hang out there for a week to film YouTube videos, records show. He’s since accepted a plea deal and has been banned from Disney. As far as Disney-related arrests go, there was also a woman accused of blaming her 6-year-old child for hiding a gun on the property, a former cast member who reportedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company, a guest deputies say hit a security guard who asked him to wear a different type of mask and another guest accused of turning violent after taking LSD.
10. Pythons, pythons, pythons
Invasive Burmese pythons are nothing new in Florida, but this year they seemed to make headlines more so than usual. They reached record-setting lengths, they were hunted by the thousands by both people and dogs, they slithered into cars and washing machines, they were eaten by at least one adventurous Florida woman who said they taste like chicken and, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, they were even made into “fashionable” face masks. As far as snakes in general, this year they came in the two-headed variety, they closed parks with their mating activities, they crossed the road and for whatever reason, they were stolen.
11. Gators, too
This one was was just an old pool floatie that caused a scare but you can bet that gargantuan gators roamed the state all throughout 2020. Unfortunately for this man who nearly lost his arm on Lake Jesup, this teen walking near a pond and this man who was bit on the face while playing disc golf, the alligators did get aggressive this year. But there were also some pretty docile ones that just wanted to stroll across a golf course during a tropical storm, play ding dong ditch, hang out at the school playground or get rescued from storm drains. Of course, they were really hungry, too, and one big one got caught on camera eating a bunch of ducks. In a reverse of fate, predator became prey when a hungry heron snacked on a baby gator on Lake Apopka. Perhaps the fan favorite this year was the Florida man who waded into the water and wrestled a gator that snatched up his poor little puppy. The dog was fine and is now actually a deputy with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, and his brave owner didn’t even drop his cigar during the whole ordeal.
12. Pick a card, any card
It wasn’t all fun and games in 2020, but at least for one moment it was. Before there were mask mandates and social distancing requirements, there were these three unbothered bros played Uno in the middle of traffic. The video went viral on TikTok and gave as all a chance to bond over how much we hate long lights and bumper-to-bumper conditions on the road. Seeing that during your morning commute would probably be much better than seeing a dump truck suspended in the air after hitting an overpass or anything else we’ve featured on What the Honk, including this mess of oranges and giant inflatable duck strapped to a sedan.
13. Spreading cheer
If there’s one thing this year needed it was more laughs and smiles. When things seemed particularly grim in April, one woman donned a big, puffy unicorn costume and went for a jog around her Seminole Heights neighborhood for the sole purpose of cheering her neighbors up. I think it’s safe to say her smile stunt worked.
14. One bad egg
Lake Eola is known as the crown jewel of downtown Orlando, but it wasn’t without its troubles. First, there was this woman who came along and stomped on more than a dozen goose eggs -- each worth about $200 -- that were in a nest because she believed they were rotten, according to authorities. Never mind the fact that even a volunteer said they were just fine and ready to hatch in about two weeks. More recently, the swan boats had to take a brief hiatus because the bacteria levels in the lake reached an unhealthy level.
15. Bird is the word
Amazon and other delivery drivers have been working overtime in the past nine months as more and more consumers transitioned to online shopping, but Florida didn’t exactly make it easy on at least one of those essential workers. In DeBary, a ticked off turkey chased an Amazon delivery man all the way back to his van. George the temperamental turkey wasn’t the only bird to run afoul. An emu in Jacksonville got loose this fall and chased after passersby until it was eventually wrangled and in Tampa, a man said he was trapped with more than 200 parrots on his 5-acre, landlocked property. On a more calm and regal note, a beautiful bald Eagle went for a leisurely strut across a backyard in Apopka just recently.
16. Fear the reaper
The tale of the Florida grim reaper is one that made headlines for months. Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder got the idea in May to dress up as death personified and hit the beaches to give a stern warning to Floridians that spending their time on the sandy shores could increase their risk of contracting -- or even dying from -- COVID-19. To really show his support for a statewide stay-at-home order, he filed a lawsuit against the governor asking that the beaches stay closed in order to keep residents safe. Just recently, the governor asked that Uhlfelder be sanctioned for what he called a “frivolous” lawsuit. Uhlfelder wasn’t alone in his efforts. Around the same time that he was on beach patrol, protesters in Tallahassee lined up in body bags outside the state capitol to prove their point.
17. Runaway ‘roo
Just try to name a cuter prisoner. This little guy’s crime? Hopping around a South Florida neighborhood, evading police in the process. Just as wild of a chase involved this big bull that went for a brisk run in Broward County. The men and women in blue tried to lasso him in but when that proved to be too difficult, they had to call in the professionals.
18. Plane stupid
Just because air travel was down in 2020 doesn’t mean there was a decrease in air antics. These three women reportedly threw phones, shoes, full water bottles, metal boarding signs and fast food at several Spirit Airlines employees because they were upset their flight from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia was delayed. While they never made it onto the plane, this Florida couple did, only to decide they wanted off, so they deployed the emergency chute and slid back on down to the runway, according to Delta officials. There was also this woman who is accused of hitting a flight attendant in the face because she didn’t want to wear a mask during the flight and then a mother of six who was forced off a flight because her 2-year-old daughter wouldn’t keep her face covering in place.
19. Mystery seeds
During the summer months, more than 1,000 Floridians received odd packages in the mail that they didn’t order that turned out to be packets of seeds sent from China. Consumers who received the seeds were told not to plant them in case they were from an invasive plant species or something much worse. The seeds were ultimately identified as being from your garden variety species: mint, sage, rosemary, lavender and the like. That’s one mystery solved.
20. Can’t forget about the sharks
Gators aren’t the only creatures lurking in the waters. Sharks made some waves this year, too, like when one got a little too close for comfort to a little boy who was boogie boarding in Cocoa Beach and an officer had to step in to help, or when this nurse shark latched onto the arm of a man who grabbed it, as pictured above, and even this hammerhead that was caught on drone video circling around a clueless swimmer. While those may just have been close calls with no real damage done, not everyone was so lucky. A pregnant woman in the Florida Keys pulled her husband to safety after a large shark took a chunk out of his shoulder and in Siesta Key, a shark bit a man who then walked home on his own, bleeding the whole way. Perhaps the most unlucky of them all is Justin Stuller, who has now survived both a shark attack and a gator attack.
21. At least it’s over now
This election was a doozy, both here and nationwide. Things got pretty ugly as reports surfaced early on of a man using a flag pole to hit a 12-year-old girl in the face during a rally for President Donald Trump, according to deputies, and two women reportedly drove their SUV toward political protesters. Then there were the yard signs that were stolen, damaged and even bulldozed. It wasn’t all bad, though and Floridians were definitely determined to head out to the polls. Case in point: One pregnant woman voted from the parking lot of the supervisor of elections office while in labor before heading to the hospital to give birth.
22. COVID parties
If there’s one thing we weren’t supposed to do this year it was host massive parties but people just did it anyway. The sheriff in Osceola County said attendees at these all-night ragers knew about the risks and didn’t care. In some cases, they may have even wanted to catch the deadly respiratory illness during one of these “COVID parties.” Other potentially dangerous gatherings were also reported at Florida State University and other colleges across the country.
23. Last but not least
The Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic, may not technically be from the Sunshine State, but the hit Netflix series had some major Florida ties. Exotic’s arch nemesis, Carole Baskin, owns Big Cat Rescue in Tampa and was awarded Exotic’s zoo in Oklahoma. While Exotic is currently behind bars for trying to hire a hitman to kill Baskin, among other things, Baskin also has her fair share of legal troubles. She’s currently facing a lawsuit over the whereabouts of her missing millionaire husband, who hasn’t been seen since 1997. Given the popularity of the show, authorities have been re-examining the case and recently determined that the man’s will was forged. In yet another twist of the Tiger King saga, a tiger recently bit a volunteer at Big Cat Rescue in an attack that was almost identical to the one at Exotic’s zoo.
Technically, that was more than 23 but we know it was just the tip of the iceberg. If we missed anything, you can leave your suggestions in the comments section below.