BY MARK THOMAS
Copyright is held by the author.
ON FRIDAY, April 1st in Scarboro, Tennessee, Billy-Jo Junior, a native of the nearby hamlet of Lungbucket, was killed and partially eaten by 10 to 12 common snapping turtles. Junior had been fishing for the turtles above the Norris Dam in the evening between seven and eight P.M. when the attack took place.
Emergency response was allegedly hampered because a dispatcher assumed a series of 9-1-1 calls were April fool’s jokes. The incident is being investigated internally, although Barker Forestall, duty lieutenant for the unified response team in lower east Oak Ridge, admitted that there isn’t a definitive protocol to deal with prank calls.
Junior was something of a local celebrity because he was featured on a T.V. show called “You Gots to Eat Thar,” which celebrated “nouveau redneck” cuisine. Junior was the exclusive supplier of turtle meat for an upscale Oak Ridge restaurant called Sweet Cheeks. He regularly caught the animals by baiting a single large hook with an uncooked hot dog. He claimed that he never had to wait for more than a few minutes before a snapping turtle would latch onto the tasty treat. Junior would then drag the animal near shore and “mesemorize” it.
Turtles can survive underwater for long periods of time because they transfer oxygen through gill-like structures in their beaks and cloaca. Junior claimed to be able to disable these organs with his fingers and incapacitate the turtles without actually killing them, thus keeping the meat fresh.
That was just one of the unfortunate misapprehensions that led to Mr. Junior’s death. Several anonymous witnesses on a dam-top walkway called 9-1-1 to report the attack but their figurative language was incorrectly interpreted.
One man (unaware of Junior’s harvesting technique) reported that someone was trying to “drown” a number of turtles. The caller’s outrage seemed to be aimed at both the animal cruelty and the idiocy of holding an amphibious creature’s head under water.
Approximately 15 minutes later, a second witness reported that a number of turtles, which were placed in the back of Mr. Junior’s pickup truck, attacked him en masse when he lowered the gate to load up an additional animal.
A third call also referenced the attack and said that the ambulance had better hurry or “there won’t be nothing left of him except for a belt buckle and a can of Redman chewing tobacco.” The caller continued to provide an emotional three minute play-by-play of the incident: “The humanity . . . it’s like a country music song gone wrong,” he said at one point.
The histrionics just served to make the dispatcher suspicious. He was reluctant to send a full complement of first responders, but had a nearby patrol car investigate to see if someone was orchestrating an elaborate hoax. The police officers quickly discovered a substantial blood stain near the tailgate of a white Silverado three-quarter ton pickup, and multiple drag marks leading to the water. Mr. Junior’s corpse was floating 30 feet off shore. It had been mutilated, presumably by snapping turtles.
The Coroner, Dr. Raymond Andrews, suggested that Mr. Junior’s death was a result of his femoral arteries being severed. The preliminary assessment was that the death was, indeed, accidental as there were no indication of a secondary human presence in the immediate area.
Dr. Andrews did not comment extensively on the case, saying that “it was early days yet.” But in a brief official statement he said he couldn’t in good conscience write “angry chelonians” as the cause of death.