LITHIA — A one-legged buzzard. A pigeon from New Orleans. A baby blue jay who needed a nest.
All of them spent nights in Jean Pearce's spare room.
"They can't help themselves, so she helped them," her husband, Clarence Pearce, 73, said Tuesday.
The 68-year-old often took in injured birds. So when she hit an owl with her car on the way home from Wal-Mart on Sunday night, it was no surprise she pulled over on the dark country road. A 2003 Ford Explorer struck her as she stood in the middle of Nichols Road, bending over the bird, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. The impact sent her into the hood of a Honda van. She died at the scene.
Detectives were still investigating the crash at press time, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. No charges had been filed against the driver of the Ford Explorer, Elizabeth L. Gray, 19, of Lithia.
The owl was taken to Florida Veterinary Specialists in Brandon with a broken wing and other injuries. Details about its condition were unavailable.
"If it was hurt, she would have brought it home," Clarence Pearce said.
Clarence and Jean Pearce met in a bar in Washington state when he was on shore leave from the Navy. She was a waitress there. He liked the way she talked.
They got married 47 years ago, three days after their first date. They had a daughter, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. In 1973, they moved together to Florida.
Over time, her love of animals became his. He started keeping dog food in the car in case they drove by a hungry stray.
Birds often stayed in the couple's Lithia home. Sometimes they flitted around the house. One time a blue jay ended up in Clarence Pearce's mashed potatoes, pecking at a pork chop.Jean Pearce called all the birds "Precious" until they came up with a better name.
The family is still discussing funeral arrangements, Clarence Pearce said. In the meantime, he is left wondering what happened Sunday night, and what to do with the 10 birds living in the spare room. Some will stay, he said, but now there are too many for him to watch over alone.
"I don't want to sell them," he said. "I'd rather give them away to someone who will take care of them."
Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661-2454.