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May 31, 2016; 1:30 PM ET
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FOX 13 Tampa Headlines

FWC investigating photos of killed sandhill crane

A photo of a dead sandhill crane caused a stir online and in the Pasco County community of Trinity. The person who took it said a driver plowed right into a family of birds and kept going.

Now, Florida Fish and Wildlife is involved, investigating whether or not the driver intentionally hit the bird, which is classified as "threatened" in Florida.

Walking delicately on twig-thin legs, the graceful, gray sandhill crane is just as much a member of the Trinity community as the people who live there. One family of four sanhill cranes, in particular, is known around the Trinity College grounds.

"They're really an interesting creature, those cranes," said Mark O'Farrell, President of Trinity College. "You get to know them over the years. They're very docile, in a sense that you can get close to them."

But after one was killed, the family of cranes at the college only has three members.

Jeff Brown said he was playing disc golf at Trinity College Sunday when he spotted a car speeding down the 25 mile-per-hour road. In its path was the family of sandhill cranes.

"Two big cranes and two small cranes crossing the road, and plowed right into them," Brown recalled. "Just kind of touched his brakes and kept on going. Didn't stop or anything."

There in the road, Brown said a motionless, young bird was left behind.

"To see something like that, and the fact they didn't care, seems unusual," Brown said. "But, nowadays, it might be commonplace, I guess, which is kind of sad."

Brown said he was so upset, he followed the driver, took pictures and took to social media.

"I didn't think anything would actually become of it," Brown said.

"It did really spread in this local community quickly," said O'Farrell.

In 24 hours, Brown's post and photos were shared more than 1,300 times. People were outraged, calling for the driver to be charged.

FWC said, unfortunately, it's fairly common for these birds to be run over. They often feed close to roads. It advised drivers to keep watch, especially for the younger ones, this time of year.

Still, FWC officers said they are taking it seriously. They have an officer investigating the case, and whether or not it was intentional.

Sandhill cranes are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and are listed as "threatened" by the state of Florida. Sadly, for this bird, the threat was on four wheels.

"I'm hoping it's not a malicious thing, but we will leave that up to the authorities," said O'Farrell.

The father of the driver spoke off-camera with FOX 13 News. He said his son didn't intentionally hit the crane and that he tried to avoid it. Though, he said, his son should have stopped to see if the bird was okay.

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