Falling Meteorite Costs Man a Hand

     (CN) – A fragment of the giant meteorite that created the Arizona Meteor Crater fell off a tripod at a planetarium and crushed a college student’s hand, which had to be amputated, he claims in court.
     Grant Black sued the Arizona Board of Regents and Science Downtown on Tuesday in Pima County Court.
     Black says he was doing community service work at the UA’s Flandreau Science when the 270-lb. Canyon Diablo Meteorite fell off an unstable tripod and crushed his hand.
     A sign by the meteorite stated, “Please Touch.”
     The university had loaned the meteorite to the Science Downtown, a nonprofit, for a show called “Mars and Beyond: The Search for Life on Other Planets” on Congress Street in the heart of Tucson. When Science Downtown returned the rock to the university, its workers, or the university’s, changed the display tripod, making it unsteady, Black says. It fell and crushed his hand on Nov. 14, 2014.
     “Defendants knew and in fact encouraged visitors to touch and interact with the meteorite,” Black says in the lawsuit. “While doing so, the meteorite toppled over onto plaintiff, crushing his hand and causing amputation and loss of use.”
     He seeks damages for premises liability, negligence and physical and emotional injuries. He is represented by Dev Sethi, with Kinerk, Schmidt & Sethi.
     The Canyon Diablo Meteorite is one of many fragments of the giant stone that created the Arizona Meteor Crater 50,000 years ago near modern day Flagstaff. Study of lead isotopes in samples from it helped scientists date the age of the Earth at about 4.5 billion years.
     Most meteorites are believed to come from the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, or from comets. They are known as meteors when they orbit in space or burst into flame upon entering Earth’s atmosphere; the fragments that land on Earth without burning up are meteorites.
     Meteorites are primarily made of nickel and iron, though they may contain a number of other interesting chemicals, including complex organic compounds such as pyrimidine, which bears some chemical relation to nucleic acids found in DNA.
     Only one person in history is known to have been injured by a falling meteorite.
     Ann Hodges was snoozing on her couch near Sylacauga, Ala. on Nov. 30, 1954 when a softball-sized rock fell out of a clear blue sky, smashed through the ceiling, bounced off a radio and whacked her in the thigh, leaving a nasty bruise. It was a few minutes before 2:30 p.m.
     People throughout Talladega County and eastern Alabama saw the meteor as it fell to Earth, and they jammed Hodges’ home when the news spread. She was hospitalized that afternoon, but it’s unclear whether it was from the bruise or the stress of dealing with the looky-loos.
     It was the height of the Cold War, so the police chief confiscated the rock and turned it over to the Air Force, for fear Russia might have something to do with it. When the Air Force ruled out a Communist plot, Hodges asked for the meteorite back. But she was a renter, and her landlady claimed that the rock belonged to her, since it had fallen on her property.
     According to a February 2013 National Geographic story by Justin Nobel, the landlady sued Hodges for the meteorite, and though the law was on her side, public opinion was with Hodges, who, after all, had touched it first. The landlady, Birdie Guy, settled out of court for $500.
     Hodges’ husband Eugene thought they could make money from the meteorite and they turned down “a modest offer from the Smithsonian,” according to the National Geographic. Alas, no one made a better offer, so in 1956 the Hodges donated the rock to the Smithsonian, where it remains to this day.
     Ann Hodges eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. She and Eugene separated in 1964 and she died of kidney failure in 1972. Eugene said “she never did recover” from the stress and bother that came after the meteorite whacked her.
     The large meteorite that made world news in February 2103 by falling near Chelyabinsk , Russia, injured hundreds of people, indirectly, by sonic booms and shock waves that broke glass and damaged buildings. But no one was hit by it.
     In line with tradition, some Russian authorities suspected at first that America was behind it.
     Mark Twain reported that a Native American man was hit by a meteorite and knocked out as he walked across a field. Twain was an excellent reporter, but he was prone to throw in a few “stretchers,” and his story has not been accepted as fact. He said no one believed the Indian’s story, either.

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