Origins: We've detailed other 911 oddities, including the tale of a woman who called 911 to report that a fast food outlet wasn't making her cheeseburger to her satisfaction, the legend of a motorist who struck a deer that subsequently turned on him, causing him to make a panicked plea for a "bambulance," strange instances of phones whose batteries were dying calling for help, and even true life stories about criminals who have inadvertently called 911 on themselves. Even so, this particular story is a first for us, in that vegetables are not normally known to request police assistance.
In November 1990, police in the Virginia town of Blacksburg were inundated with a flurry of 911 calls from the home of Linda and Danny Hurst. While they quickly ascertained both Hursts were elsewhere and thus weren't themselves trying to summon help, the source of the calls remained a mystery. Had a burglar who had broken in run into trouble that necessitated a police rescue? Was some unknown person being held hostage in the house? Or had perhaps the phone malfunctioned?
Sheriff's deputies entered the home with guns drawn, then searched the residence top to bottom.
As best police were able to determine, the juice from the distressed tomato shorted out the machine's dialing system, causing it to call the Sheriff's Department emergency line.
"I didn't know the answering machine could even dial out," Linda Hurst said. "It's just supposed to take messages."
Said humorist Dave Barry of the incident:
Mr. GREGORY: Well, with e-911 like I said, every time a call is made, they automatically trace it back. Now if
Mr. GREGORY: So they automatically dispatch an officer. Well, in this case a call came in, no one was on the line. They dispatched an officer. He knocked on the door. There was no one there. He let himself in because it was an emergency situation. Searched the entire house. Couldn't find anybody there. And as he's leaving he passes the kitchen, looks at the telephone in the kitchen, and there's a tomato on the speed dial. And the only thing that he could figure out was that it had somehow fallen
Barbara "as for the actual pranking tomato, we suspect it was thoroughly grilled by the police" Mikkelson
Last updated: 7 April 2011
Barry, Dave. "Go Organic, But Keep Those Tomatoes Calm." The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. 17 March 1991 (p. C1). Couric, Katie. "Leland Gregory Talks About his Book." Today. 29 November 2000. Eaton, Joe. "Dispatchers Deal with Mundane, Horrible Calls Daily." The Roanoke Times. 9 September 2005 (p NRV 3). Gregory, Leland. What's the Number for 911? Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7407-0032-4 (p. 91 ). Associated Press. "Tomato Dials for Assistance." Times Daily. 11 November 1990 (p. 1). United Press International. "Police Too Late to Help Overripe Tomato." 10 November 1990.