Drivers on state Route 21 in Norton lit up Copley Dispatch Center phone lines like a Christmas tree Sunday morning when they came upon a reindeer walking down the middle of the highway.
Norton patrolman Kevin Starling arrived on the scene just after 11:30 a.m. and couldn’t believe his eyes.
Starling didn’t see the reindeer at first, but he did see about 10 or 20 vehicles inching their way down the southbound lanes following a vehicle with flashing lights driven by a Chippewa Township firefighter.
The leader of the parade was a female reindeer wearing a green and red bridle.
“She was just toddling along,” Starling said. “The firefighter was slowing down traffic and keeping the traffic off of her.”
But danger lie ahead.
“We were slowly moving toward an ugly intersection at Eastern and 21,” he said. “I wanted to resolve it before we got there.”
Starling eased the cruiser in front of the reindeer and stopped in hopes of distracting her. The officer jumped out of his car and grabbed onto the reindeer’s bridle.
“She jerked her head and poked at me with the broken antler, then she was fine,” Starling said. “She obviously was used to being handled by the bridle.”
Starling, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology with a specialty in zoology, and the firefighter worked to get the frightened, disoriented reindeer to safety.
The 12-year police officer then called his dispatcher.
“I’ve got the reindeer,” he said in a recording of the Sunday exchange. “Any suggestions would be helpful.”
Starling said the young reindeer suffered some road rash and a broken antler, but appeared to be walking fine and the injuries appeared to be minor.
A dispatcher called the Division of Wildlife and a nearby tree farm where someone remembered seeing deer on display.
Owners of a nearby family-run llama farm stopped at the scene. One was a veterinarian. She got on the phone with colleagues, trying to find someone to come take a look at the injured animal and offered to transport the reindeer to their farm until the owner was located.
While caring for the reindeer, Starling remembered something unusual he saw while watching for speeders just before the flood of 911 calls came in.
Just before dispatch sent him to rescue the reindeer, he’d seen a man driving a livestock trailer and another man trying desperately to flag down the truck driver.
“I was going to check on the men when I got the call,” he said. “I told Sgt. [Jay] Nagy, and he jumped in his car.”
Nagy caught up to the truck from Stump Hill Farm in Stark County’s Perry Township a few miles away on state Route 261.
The driver of the truck from the exotic animal farm checked and realized he was missing a reindeer.
Authorities say the driver and reindeer were on their way to a party in Beachwood when the truck hit a bump, causing the trailer’s doors to open just long enough for the animal to fall out.
Starling said the whole thing was surreal.
“One minute I’m out on the highway writing traffic tickets, and the next minute I’m holding onto a reindeer for dear life.”