The bizarre scene unfolded in Circleville, about 20 miles south of Columbus. Emergency personnel and Pickaway County sheriff’s deputies soon arrived, applying a tourniquet to Clifton’s right arm and then escorting him to an ambulance. Minutes after they did, the zebra, the only male in a herd of four or five, approached, and a sergeant fatally shot it once in the head with a shotgun.
“I had to make a decision,” Sgt. Stacey Eitel can be heard saying in body-camera footage. “I put a slug right between its eyes.”
Emergency crews took Clifton to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center in Columbus, where he was still being treated and in fair condition on Tuesday afternoon, a spokeswoman told The Washington Post.
Clifton’s family told WSYX he probably wouldn’t lose his arm.
The effort to rescue Clifton, 72, started with disbelief when, upon hearing why he was calling 911, the dispatcher asked him, “You got attacked by a what?” After confirming that the aggressor was a zebra, she sent sheriff’s deputies and medical crews to the scene — a large grassy field owned by Clifton. It wasn’t immediately clear who owned the zebras.
One of the first responding deputies quickly encountered the zebra’s aggression. When he arrived, Deputy Michael Oberley used his vehicle to try to shield Clifton from the zebras. A large zebra reacted by charging his driver’s side door and acting “very hostile,” Oberley wrote in a report. Eitel, who saw the encounter, wrote in his report that the zebra pressed its face against Oberley’s window.
Oberley used his air horn and sirens to scare the zebra and drive it back, giving him enough room to get out of his pickup, his report states. He then headed to Clifton, who was lying faceup at the base of a large pile of sticks. Blood covered his face. Noticing that he was hemorrhaging blood just below his right elbow, Oberley applied a tourniquet to Clifton’s right arm.
Another deputy, a firefighter and Oberley hoisted Clifton to his feet and escorted him to a nearby ambulance.
With the urgent part of his job done, Oberley and other deputies started collecting information they would need to document what had happened. But as they were doing so, the male zebra reappeared, popping up over a ridge and approaching the caravan of emergency responders — who had concentrated near vehicles and an ambulance — in a sort of circling of the wagons.
“Is there a way for you to keep him back?” one of the deputies asked an unidentified man who appeared to be familiar with the property. “We’re trying not to shoot him.”
As the zebra charged, the man grabbed a branch off the ground, intercepted the animal and shooed it away.
“Phew,” one of the deputies said as the zebra retreated.
But it never got far. Body-camera footage shows that, after standing and staring at the deputies for about a minute, it veered off to the right and came closer before taking a few more steps away. Stopping some 30 feet away, the zebra once again stared at the men, who had shotguns pointed in the air.
Then it turned in the direction of the deputies and walked toward them.
At about 15 feet, one of them aimed a shotgun at it.
“Get back!” he yelled.
It kept coming, even as deputies kept yelling.
Seconds later, Eitel fired.
The zebra dropped to the ground, the momentum of the fall causing it to roll once before landing on its side, inches from Eitel.
In body-camera footage minutes later, Eitel explains why he took the shot.
“I ain’t going to let no one else get hurt,” he said. “It wasn’t going to stop. It kept coming.”