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Wild goose chase nets emu near downtown Rock Hill

Dauntless but "sure enough there was an ostrich runnin' right by my nose so I couldn't just sit by and do nothin'," house painter Jerry Gibson armed himself with an electric drop cord Tuesday morning and took off running after the giant bird that ran 5 feet from his unbelieving eyes.

Gibson joined a posse of about a half dozen Tuesday morning that grew to dozens as the word spread that the ostrich - an emu really, but a big bird is a big bird - was strolling down Chestnut Street and East Main Street and other streets in the East Town neighborhood just east of downtown Rock Hill.

"Get him!" screamed Ginger Strong in her bed slippers.

"Get a rope!" howled animal rescuer Sheila Dover.

"Get this rope around his neck!" screamed out Billy Grayson, who sure enough had a rope around his neck for just that purpose.

"He got after me, that ostrich - or emu, or whatever he is," said another stunned lady named Kolayia Sherer, who came face to beak with a 6-foot flightless Australian bird as she stepped off her porch.

"Figured I could get up to him and lasso him," said Gibson. "I was right about gettin' up to him. Had him by the neck feathers. Wrong about the lassoing though. And he sure give me a fight when I tried to grab a hold of him. Tough sucker, strong, he run off on me."

Gibson tells no tales either, as that emu scraped him on his leg and arm after he pulled a sneak attack near a fence just off Main Street. Although Gibson grabbed onto that emu like a mother-in-law grabbing a purse off a 75-percent-off sale rack, he got bullrushed by the emu for his trouble and left bloodied yet unbowed.

"That emu - they say it is an emu, so I guess it is - and me, we ain't done," Gibson said.

The emu ran off through a yard, avoided the jaws of a tan pit bull on a chain that leaped up on the bird's back for a second with its teeth trying to sink into the emu. But the bird disappeared over a fence.

Gibson's heroics happened around 10:30 Tuesday morning, a couple of hours into the chase that started with a few people scratching their heads in disbelief as they watched the emu waltz down the street like a peacock. The chase added dozens of Pied Piper-like chasers including the cops, and culminated with the emu's capture by a veteran emu wrangler who just so happens to be a senior citizen with Popeye forearms named Bobby Mangrum. Mangrum was armed with nothing but a fishing net and a bellyful of courage.

"Got him!" Mangrum called out as he tackled the bird, then got some help to keep the emu down until Mangrum could tie the emu up with a dog leash an officer named Sgt. Lee McKellar grabbed from one of the chasers just in the nick of time.

McKellar got on the phone to the Rock Hill Police station and reported: "We got the emu!"

Rico Watson, 19, another guy who just happened upon the emu Tuesday and could not turn down a chance to chase an emu - although he had no idea what it was before Tuesday - jumped on top of the emu to help subdue the bird.

Finally, at 11:45 a.m., Mangrum tied up the bird's razor-sharp feet and the Great Rock Hill Emu Caper was over.

But what a morning it was, starting off as normal for a lady on Keels Avenue named Eka Etuk.

"The dog was going crazy, I looked outside and saw it and said, "That ain't no mule or horse or dog! I'm on my day off and I knew right then this was going to be one eventful day. You don't see an ostrich, or an emu, walk by every day, now do you?"

Etuk and other stunned neighbors called police, then people saw the commotion.

"He was walking right down the middle of Chestnut Street, calm as could be," said David Wells, Gibson's boss with the painting company. "Takin' his sweet time. It wasn't until people started to chase him that he got his feathers ruffled."

The cops arrived at the corner of Main and Marshall streets, where the emu ran north into a business yard and ladies at a loan company shot out the front door to see an emu running in circles.

A couple of luckless officers called in on their radios to tell a dispatcher that the emu was still loose.

Sheila Dover, an animal rescuer who normally handles dogs and cats, had shown up along with a guy she knows who helps her sometimes named Billy Grayson. Dover carried corn in a bucket to try to lure the emu, and Grayson wore a rope thick as a boa constrictor around his neck that almost covered up Grayson's Olympic gold medal-sized mullet.

"I don't what it is, but if it is a chicken it is a big-@#$%^&* chicken," said Grayson.

Grayson approached the emu in the parking lot of the loan company, tried to lasso it with that big coil of rope and failed.

The emu ran off, skidded in gravel along Main Street and took a tumble, then righted itself for a run south into the neighborhood between Marshall and Workman streets.

By this time a stream of people were chasing the emu headed south. That's where Gibson the house painter tried his sneak attack with the electrical drop cord that failed.

The emu headed south and the posse headed south, with Lt. Joe Johnson - smiling - heading the cavalry charge of Rock Hill's finest in blue. The police urged people to stay away from the emu, but they might as well have been urging people to stop watching the Miracle of Christ. People came from all directions, on foot and bicycle and in cars, to try to get a look at the emu.

The emu ran past astonished homeowners who laughed and pointed, and the chasers chased on. One of them, Elijah James, said he had been after the emu all morning and was not going to give up.

"I know it is an emu because my uncle raised emus and that's an emu," James said. "You can eat 'em. They taste good."

Just as James was about to say emu tastes like chicken, a group had the emu against a fence, but the emu faked through the arms of people grabbing at it like a pro football halfback.

"He oughta play football for South Pointe (high school)!" James called out.

Through at least 10 square blocks the emu evaded the police and the people of Rock Hill whose ranks had swelled to include a city utility crew, an animal control officer from York County, and other people without titles but a with thirst for fun.

"Big Bird!" called out a tiny kid in a parked car with her mother as the chasers, including me, went after the emu.

Mangrum, who owns two emus at his Porter Road home, where he also has llamas and goats inside a 6-foot high fence, had been called earlier by Dover the animal rescuer. He showed up pulling his horse trailer, and exited the truck armed with a fishing net. He wore camouflage pants, apparently so the emu could not see him.

"I get this over his head, I got him," Mangrum said. "I heard this thing has been loose since last Monday, all the way over on Highway 901."

Then Mangrum, 70 years old, fingers thick as the roots of an oak tree, marched behind a house and chased the emu about two blocks through a thicket and stand of trees. McKellar, the police sergeant, brought out a tranquilizer rifle in case he had to use it. But Mangrum, stalking the emu, found the emu holed up there behind a house on South Jones Avenue near Walnut Street. Mangrum strode up to the emu and in a flash had the net on him and then tackled the emu.

Watson, the 19-year-old in a baseball jersey who had been on the chase all morning, jumped on and straddled the emu and the bird was caught. It was 11:45 a.m. three hours after the chase began.

The chasers, who by now numbered at least 50 and included neighbors, city workers, women in hair curlers and one guy who had a cold beer but did not share, cheered. Watson happily gave interviews to me and a late-arriving TV crew. Watson said he would not mind a reward "one bit."

Donna White, who lives in the neighborhood and had chased the emu all morning, said breathlessly: "Only in Rock Hill! Never thought I'd see this."

Dozens of people watched and took cell phone pictures and video as Mangrum and the police loaded up the emu on the horse trailer for the ride to Mangrum's home.

Mangrum said, "It's just a scratch," as he received some first aid for a cut on his left elbow from the scuffle with the emu. He was the hero of the day and he gave interviews, too. Not every day you catch an emu at age 70.

"These animals, they keep the muscle built up," Mangrum said of his arms of iron. "As long as he doesn't go into shock, he should be all right. As long as he doesn't fight with my other male emu."

The York County Animal Control officer on the scene, Roger Bradley, conceded that Tuesday's chase was his sole call for a loose emu, but that owning emus is legal. The bird was first spotted near Interstate 77, he said, and had made its way into the neighborhood.

"We don't know who owns this one, but I am glad the police were able to use restraint and they could take it alive without her being hurt," Bradley said. "You could see the traffic problems it caused. And the beak is as sharp and hard as a brick. It could have been dangerous if the emu had tried to fight, but he just kept on running."

Mangrum left and the emu chase was history. The chasers drifted off. Lt. Joe Johnson, the police officer running the scene, said officers would continue to try to find out who owns the emu. Johnson was asked what he would put on his police report.

"I am not sure yet, as far as I know the emu broke no laws," cracked Johnson. "He did run from the police."

Gibson, who had the first shot at catching the emu, didn't get a second chance at glory. He had scrapes and a bruised ego and a house that still needed painting. His boss, Wells, the paint company owner, was asked if he would pay Gibson for the time spent chasing the emu.

Wells winked.

"If he had caught the emu, sure," Wells said. "But he let him get away."