Officer `Buffalo Bill' earns badge of courage after bison showdown

April 28, 2005|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Police Detective Ed Spragg showed up to work yesterday a sudden celebrity with a slightly bruised ego and a new nickname: "Buffalo Bill."

The 25-year veteran of the Baltimore County force gained overnight fame Tuesday when he was knocked on his keister by an escaped bison, making the front page of newspapers, national television newscasts and even snagging the No. 4 slot on ESPN's nightly Top 10 list of sports highlights.

"I never took a shot like that on duty before," said Spragg, 49, who managed to escape his showdown with the 700-pound animal without injury. "Guess I was a bit slow in my reaction time."

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday about a Baltimore County police detective involved in a bison roundup misspelled the first name of Baltimore County's chief of police. He is Terrence B. Sheridan.

Yesterday, at the Franklin police precinct in Reisterstown, Spragg recounted his starring role in Tuesday morning's surreal Wild West show. He and a dozen other officers were commended for helping corral nine escaped bison during the morning commute without accident or injury - though not without drawing international attention.

"All kinds of things happen in this line of work," Spragg said with a shrug. "Today it seems funny, but honestly, we're glad nobody got hurt, including me, and that none of the animals had to be destroyed."

The good-natured Spragg didn't seem to mind that celebrity had found him on his backside, fending off a great beast with a chaise lounge. County Executive James T. Smith Jr. had called him and a dozen other officers to a special roll call presentation at the Franklin precinct, where he commemorated their feats with a framed poster.

"Baltimore's County Buffalo Brigade: April 26, 2005" read the poster, which featured a Western-style drawing of a vanquished buffalo with three police officers standing over it.

According to Smith, the bison roundup proved the county's police were the best around.

"Not only did you protect the people, but you didn't have to kill the bison," he told them. The award, he said, was for "handling the unexpected."

"I know everyone wanted buffalo burgers," he joked," but it's better that they're safe."

Spragg's sprawling moment of fame came after the nine bison escaped from a Baltimore County farm and proceeded to run roughshod over a neighborhood near Greenspring Valley Road. After police managed to corral them in a parking lot at a Pikesville condominium complex, they formed a makeshift chute with their bodies to herd the beasts into an enclosed tennis court for further wrangling.

Once on the court, several officers lined up to help coax the bison into a trailer to ferry them back to the farm. For Spragg, things went downhill after someone decided to create a fence out of some patio furniture.

"They figured the animals would respect the barriers and enter the trailer," Spragg said. "Up 'til the last buffalo, they did.

"I had no idea buffalo were so agile," he said. "Did you know buffalo can jump a fence? Unfortunately, I was the fence."

After Smith's tongue-in-cheek presentation, Spragg's fellow officers took their best shots.

"He'll never be able to go undercover again," one shouted.

"Meet `Buffalo Bill' Spragg," cracked another.

Even Terrance B. Sheridan, Baltimore County's police chief, joined in. "I opened my morning paper today," he said, "and there was Detective Spragg, on his back with his feet in the air."

For the moment, the detective seemed to be enjoying his sudden, oddball renown. His voicemail, he said, was crammed with messages - "Just buffalo jokes, nothing I can repeat," he said. He had also already made his front-page photo the wallpaper on his computer screen.

And for lunch yesterday? Buffalo wings, of course.

As to whether he had received the official stamp of American celebrity - a call from Jay Leno or David Letterman - Spragg was happy to report that he had not. "God, don't wish that on me," he said.

At home Tuesday in Abingdon, Spragg's wife, Cynthia, had heard nothing about his unusual day until he called her and said, "In case you see it on TV, I'm OK."

"The whole thing was funny," she said, "till I thought about it." Despite his notoriety and the ceremony with Smith, "Buffalo Bill" Spragg, in the end, was mostly modest. "Everybody here was a part of it," he said. "The buffalo just happened to pick me."

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