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Taser ends emu scamper on Pennsylvania Turnpike

| Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

Kathy Rooney was heading east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Monday when traffic came to a halt near the New Stanton exit.

She immediately thought construction was at the heart of the backlog, until she saw a large, gangly bird loping straight down the center of the highway.

"It was coming towards us, but it was on the white lines," said Rooney, of Mt. Lebanon. "It was like it knew to stay on the white lines. It stayed right down the middle."

The turnpike interloper was an emu -- a large, flightless bird native to Australia -- that clogged the turnpike Monday for about two hours and sent state police scrambling to capture it.

"It created a backlog of traffic," said Sgt. Anthony DeLuca at the barracks in New Stanton. "Vehicles almost wrecked into each other, into the bird. We tried to chase it down and tried to catch it."

The bird -- bred for its meat and oil from its fat -- was trapped in traffic lanes surrounded by 5-foot high barriers on each side.

"Once it got in there it got stuck, and it didn't know what to do," DeLuca said

It freed itself at one point, running into the woods surrounding the turnpike. But it made its way back to the road again. Emus can reach top speeds of 30 mph.

After two hours of chasing it on the road, trying to corner it in the woods and even attempting a cowboy-style lassoing, troopers finally decided to stun the 4-foot-tall bird with a Taser to stop it rather than shoot it.

DeLuca said it was the only choice left.

"We tried everything to save the bird," he said.

The bird fell to the ground after the shock. Troopers moved the emu -- which was still alive -- to the side of the road. That's where it took its last breath.

DeLuca believes the whole episode proved too much for the big bird.

"I think what happened is after about two hours of running on the roadway, it probably had a heart attack," he said.

Why did the emu try to cross the turnpike• Nobody knows for sure.

"It doesn't belong to any local farmers," DeLuca said. "We believe it might just have escaped from a truck that might have been hauling emus."

Rooney said her friends tried to catch the bird too and she offered it some trail mix to no avail.

Rooney said she drove away from the scene fully expecting the emu would have to be killed.

"It was a dangerous situation. Somebody could have gotten killed trying to avert it," she said. "I'm surprised they tasered it. I thought for sure they would just shoot it. At least they tried."

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