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Emu dies after being hit by car

The friendly, 5-foot bird used to wander the neighborhood near the spot where it was struck. Officials don't know who owned it.

By JAMIE JONES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 17, 2001


SPRING LAKE -- The emu was tall and gray and wandered around Spring Lake Highway looking for food. It showed up on Jim Griffin's land several months ago.

Griffin, 78, called neighbors to see whether they had lost a bird, but all said no.

The emu kept coming around, and Griffin began feeding it dog food. It was starving but also friendly and tame. Griffin took a liking to the emu. He called it "The Big Bird."

On Tuesday, about 8 a.m., the emu walked across Spring Lake Highway at about the same time a 1984 Mercury was cresting a hill. The car crashed into the bird.

Humberto Mont, 64, of San Antonio was driving the Mercury north on the highway when the emu, about 5 feet tall and weighing between 100 and 150 pounds, jumped in front of the car, said Trooper K. Lynn of the Florida Highway Patrol.

A pickup truck driven by Jason Brenneman, 30, of Zephyrhills was close behind. He also was heading north on Spring Lake Highway. Brenneman slammed into the Mercury, went up a 10-foot embankment, missed a tree and -- about 143 feet later -- landed next to a power pole in the middle of an orange field, Lynn said.

Both drivers were taken to Brooksville Regional Hospital and treated for cuts and scrapes, Lynn said.

They were not seriously injured, he said. No one will be charged in the crash.

The emu died on the highway. The county Public Works Department collected the bird and buried it in a landfill off U.S. 98, the same place stray cats and dogs are buried after being humanely destroyed, said Charles Mixson, county public works director.

Griffin said he called two ostrich and emu farms near his home to inquire about the tall, flightless bird, but the farms said it wasn't theirs.

Jim Varn, director of county animal services, said he occasionally gets a call about a stray emu. Typically, he said, the county will pick up the emu, advertise it in the paper and then auction it if no one claims or wants it.

Emus were a popular buy in the 1990s, when people thought that selling their oil (believed to be pain relieving), their meat and their skin would be profitable. The industry hasn't been as lucrative as some had hoped, and emus are periodically abandoned in pastoral stretches of Hernando County, Varn said.

They can pack a hard punch with their toes but are usually scared of people and flee, Varn said.

"He'd come up to my fence, even inside my fence," said Griffin, who has parrots, chickens and geese on his farm off Spring Lake Highway. With a sigh, he said, "He was a nice old bird."

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