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."