Cops: Emu dies after rescue from water off Copiague

Suffolk County police responding to a report of a large bird running through West Riviera Drive near Kissimee Road in Copiague found the bird had fallen into the canal and was struggling to get out. (May 27, 2013)

An emu escaped Monday from its Lindenhurst yard and ran through the streets before falling in waters off Copiague, where it died after being pulled out by police.

"I don't know how it got out," said Stephen Weinkselbaum, whose father, Steve, owns the bird and was in the Dominican Republic on vacation. "All the gates were locked."

He said he was awakened by a neighbor who told him the bird, a pet for more than 10 years, was loose from the family's home on East Santa Barbara Road.

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A caller to 911 reported an ostrich running on nearby East Riviera Drive in Copiague, about a third of a mile away, about 10:50 a.m., police said.

"It's about 200 to 250 pounds," a police spokesman said as officers reported in from the scene. "It just went into the water. . . . It's possibly attempting to come to shore. It's a strong and powerful bird."

Weinkselbaum said it was the emu's first escape, and the bird became "overstimulated" because of the police and people running and watching it.

He said he and police cornered the bird in a fenced-in area in Copiague, but then it fell into the water. Officers used catch poles and ropes to pull the bird out shortly after noon and returned it to the family.

Emus are considered good swimmers, and Weinkselbaum said his family's pet might have been choked by the catch poles. It will be cremated, he said.

A police spokeswoman said officers were trying to save the bird and declined to say more because the officers involved could not be reached Monday night.

The father, an antiques dealer and reptile expert, got the emu as a baby, when it was chicken-sized, the son said.

The bird, called simply "Emu," had been one of three of the species that once lived in the family's small, fenced-in yard, where it had a house among the overgrown grass and items stored there.

"We used to pet him. He was never aggressive," he said.

Weinkselbaum said he phoned the news to his father, who was upset. "My dad loved that bird so much," he said.

Chief Roy Gross of the Suffolk County SPCA said it was legal to own an emu, although town regulations might vary.

In 2006, emergency services police were called to hold up their shields against the three emus in the Weinkselbaums' yard in case the birds charged during an SPCA and state raid to seize alligators, snakes and other reptiles there.

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