Two Men Fined After Rescuing Deer From Icy River

deer stuck in river photo
Photo: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region

To many people, Jim Hart and Khalil Abusakran are heroes. When the two men from Maryland saw a deer stranded in the icy waters of the Patapsco River, they did what few others would dare. With an inflatable boat, the duo ventured out and rescued the animal before it perished in the frozen stream. But, after they and the deer returned to shore, it wasn't a hero's reception that awaited them -- instead, the two men were slapped with fines for not having life-jackets aboard their vessel.Last week, 911 operators began receiving reports of a deer stranded in the middle of an icy river, some 50 feet from shore. A fire crew and Natural Resources officers were dispatched to the scene, but it wasn't immediately clear what the best mode of operation would be used to rescue the rapidly fading animal. Officials worried that the river's current might have been strong enough to jeopardize their efforts.

Meanwhile, motorists and spectators began gathering at the scene, though no one appeared to be offering any real help. A few people were simply lobbing sticks and rocks towards the animal in hopes of freeing it, but it proved not to be enough. That's when Jim Hart drove by and noticed the commotion. "I saw something moving," he said. "I saw them trying to break the ice."

Khalil Abusakran, who was also passing by the area, decided to stop, too -- and he just so happened to have a rubber boat in his truck.

Perhaps realizing that time was of the essence to save the deer, and frustrated with the pace of rescue crews to solve the matter, Jim and Khalil teamed up and stepped in to do their part.

Natural Resources Police Sgt. Brian Albert explains, to The Baltimore Sun:

The Fire Department was kind of game-planning what they would do. With Natural Resources Police, we will attempt, but we are not going to risk a human life for a deer life, as cruel as that may sound. ... I'm as sympathetic as the next person on that deer being in the water, but when you weigh the risk to the reward, I would probably decide not to try to rescue that deer.

deer rescuers photo
Undaunted, even after they were advised by officers that they shouldn't venture into the river without life-vests, Jim and Khalil paddled out to free the deer from the patch of ice it was stuck in. With shovels and oars, the two men managed to loosen the ice, freeing the animal from certain death and allowing it to escape back into the woods. That's when Khalil realized more than one life was saved that afternoon -- the deer appeared to be pregnant.

But, upon returning to shore having completed their brave mission, Jim and Khalil got more than a pat on the back from authorities. Natural Resources officers promptly served each with $90 fines for not having personal flotation devices on board their boat.

It may seem strange that the duo received a punishment for the helping hand they lent the deer, but for Sgt. Alberts, they got off easy. "They could have been arrested and taken before a commissioner," he said. "Our officer erred on the side of the least invasive action that he could take at the time."

According to The Baltimore Sun, several individuals have volunteered to pay the fines and have the matter be finished -- but the pair plan to fight the charge in court.

Now, if only wildlife could be called upon as a character witness...

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