Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Vinny the bad deer to be moved; woman whose eye he gouged out recovering

SPRING HILL — A white pickup lurched down the muddy driveway Monday afternoon on its way out of Survival Outreach Sanctuary with the culprit in tow. When the truck stopped, news cameras swarmed the truck bed for a glimpse of Vinny, who was sprawled in his cage, a tangle of elbows and hooves with his snout pointed skyward, under heavy sedation.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hired a trapper to remove Vinny from the sanctuary. Three days earlier, the deer severely maimed 75-year-old Sylvia Fernandez, who remains in a hospital. Her sister, Judy Watson, the sanctuary's director, says she is doing fine.

Fernandez lost her right eye, but Watson said her sister has been in high spirits, even making jokes from her bed in the intensive care unit at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.

But the severity of the situation isn't lost on Watson.

"I have never been so devastated in my life," she told the Tampa Bay Times. "My sister is my biggest supporter. She's always had my back. She protects me.

"I wish we could rewind life."

Just after 8 a.m. Friday, Fernandez stepped out of her RV while Vinny, who is usually kept in a cage, was roaming the property. Watson didn't see what happened, but a friend came running to alert her.

Watson found her sister in the RV covered with blood and called 911.

Watson kept Vinny in his cage after he gored her sister. On Monday, trapper Vernon Yates, 61, came to the sanctuary with FWC officers who injected the deer with sedatives and loaded him into the cage.

Outside the sanctuary's gates, Yates talked of the reality of dealing with deer. "People have a real bad misconception about deers," he said. "They think they're just these lovable creatures."

He explained that deer are rough and volatile, especially during mating season. "He's playing," Yates said. "You're bleeding."

Vinny will be taken to an enclosure in Pinellas Park to be neutered, then to a government facility to be studied, said FWC spokesman Baryl Martin. Watson said she tried to release the deer three times to a commission-approved farm 7 miles from the sanctuary, but he came back every time.

A week before the attack, one of the sanctuary's lions, Savannah, dug out of her cage, making national news, though she never left her 10-foot-high fenced area.

Officers tranquilized the lion with a dart gun and put her in another cage. Watson received a misdemeanor citation for improper caging that allowed an animal to escape, said Gary Morse, FWC spokesman.

Before the lion incident, Watson had not been cited for safety violations in her 30 prior years of handling wild animals.

Watson said she has been overseeing reinforcement of the lion's cage and has received public disapproval for both incidents.

"I have to take responsibility for this," she said. "Whatever is thrown at me."

Vinny the bad deer to be moved; woman whose eye he gouged out recovering 01/13/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 13, 2014 10:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida 'Dreamers' worry Obama-era protection will disappear


    Andrea Seabra imagined the worst if Donald Trump won: "I thought on the first day he would say, 'DACA is done' and send immigration officers to every house."

    Mariana Sanchez Ramirez, 23, poses on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida.
  2. Siesta Key: 4 things you need to know about MTV's new Florida reality series


    By now you probably know MTV shot a reality series in the number one beach in America. Siesta Key, airing Monday at 10, follows a group of young adults as they navigate life in their early 20s over a summer in sunny Florida.

    The cast of Siesta Key during press interviews at Gary Kompothecras's mansion in Siesta Key. The MTV series premieres July 31 at 10 p.m.
  3. Times recommends: Rick Baker for St. Petersburg mayor


    St. Petersburg voters are fortunate to have two experienced candidates for mayor. Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker have deep roots in the city and long records of public service. Both have helped transform St. Petersburg into an urban success story. At this moment, Baker is the better choice to keep the …

    The Tampa Bay Times editorial board recommends Rick Baker for St. Petersburg mayor. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

  4. The goal of a new program in Hillsborough schools: Read a book in English, discuss it in Spanish


    TAMPA — Giadah and Gamadiel Torres are 5-year-old twins. "We were born at the same time," is how Giadah explains their birth.

    Twins Giadah and Gamadiel Torres, 5, learn about the dual language program they will enter this year at Bellamy Elementary School. [SARAH KLEIN | Special to the Times]
  5. Why don't defensive players get more Heisman Trophy love?


    In a story we posted online earlier today (and coming to your doorstep in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times), I made my case for why Florida State safety Derwin James should be a preseason …

    Boston College defensive end Harold Landry didn't get any Heisman love last year, despite leading the country in sacks.