A turtle, a DJ, an ex-76er, and a second chance

WMMR-FM's Pierre Robert carries the snapping turtle he rescued 14 months ago toward the Schuylkill for release. Thomas the turtle, hit by a car, recovered at the Schuylkill Center.
WMMR-FM's Pierre Robert carries the snapping turtle he rescued 14 months ago toward the Schuylkill for release. Thomas the turtle, hit by a car, recovered at the Schuylkill Center. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 30, 2011

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Shell-shocked doesn't begin to describe the last 14 months in the life of Thomas the turtle.

The odyssey includes the injured 20-pound reptile, a rock-DJ icon at WMMR-FM (93.3), an ex-76er, and a wildlife rehabilitation center in Roxborough.

They were brought together on the night of May 25, 2010, when the snapping turtle tried to cross Route 23 near Conshohocken and was hit by a car. That night, the disc jockey - Pierre Robert - saved its life.

On Wednesday, they were reunited to celebrate Thomas' recovery and its return to the wilds of Gladwyne. The turtle stepped gingerly into the waters of the Schuylkill in Flat Rock Park, paddling away from the crew that made sure it got a second chance.

"I feel great. I think it's awesome," said Robert, 55, after placing the turtle into the water. "It's a happy ending."

The turtle tale began when Robert - who is approaching his 30th anniversary at the radio station - was driving along Route 23 and spotted something in the roadway. When he got close, Robert realized it was a turtle.

"Its shell was cracked, and I said, 'Oh my God, it's dead,' " Robert recounted. "Then its head moved in and out of the shell, and I saw bright-red blood coming out. It crushed me."

Robert called the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the organization's Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. Rick Schubert, the center's director of wildlife rehabilitation, told him to bring in the turtle.

Meanwhile, another car pulled over to help. It was Kyle Korver, an ex-76er who plays for the Chicago Bulls. Korver, a friend of Robert's who still spends time in the area, coincidentally was driving by.

"There was blood everywhere," Korver said in an interview. "I didn't think [the turtle] was going to make it."

Korver fetched a shopping bag from his SUV. Robert picked up the snapping turtle - a dangerous maneuver, Schubert later told him - and put it in the bag.

Robert placed the turtle on the backseat of his car, next to Lucy, his golden retriever.

"I'm talking to the turtle saying, 'Don't give up, turtle. It's not too late,' " Robert said.

Robert, who frequently talks to his audience about environmental issues, has saved other animals that the DJ might call, using his radio lingo, "good citizens of the ecosystem."

"Our poor planet is so devastated and beat up and so maligned," Robert said, "and the creatures on it are as well."

He arrived at the center about 10 p.m. He was greeted by Schubert, who took over the turtle's care.

"It was in very bad shape," Schubert said. "But turtles are extremely tough animals and can withstand injuries that most mammals cannot."

Last year, the center treated 3,200 hawks, geese, foxes, blue jays, and other animals. About 20 per day are brought in. Sixty percent are treated and released, while 40 percent die in the center's care or are euthanized.

On that May evening, Schubert stabilized the reptile by flushing its wound, which was full of dirt, gravel, and soot. He dressed and bandaged it, and injected the turtle with painkillers, antibiotics, and fluids.

Over the 14 months, scars grew over the large segments of the turtle's shell that were torn off in the accident. Now, they are almost as hard as the original shell.

"It doesn't look as good," Schubert said, "but I don't think that means much to them."

On Wednesday, the turtle was well enough to leave the place where it had spent more than a year in a kiddie pool, receiving calcium supplements and dining on euthanized mice.

Miles away from the big event, Korver, 30, said he was happy about Thomas' good fortune. "It's very cool."

Robert felt equally good, calling the "small victory" a great thing.

"Live long and prosper," Robert said just before Thomas paddled away. "Rock on, brother!"


Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

 

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