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Bambulance

Claim:   An intoxicated motorist hits a deer with his car and, assuming the animal is dead, loads it into his back seat. The deer revives and begins kicking and biting, prompting a hilarious 911 call by the dazed and confused driver.

UNDETERMINED

Origins:   It sounds like the outline for a modern day Mack Sennett two-reeler: An intoxicated driver is making his way home when Cartoon of the legend suddenly a "deer jumps out and hits his car." Believing the animal to be dead and not wanting a good deer to go to waste, the man loads it into his back seat and continues on his way. The deer is only stunned, however, and within short order it revives, begins thrashing around, and bites the driver on the neck. The hapless driver stops at a phone booth to summon help and is immediately set upon by a hostile dog who bites him in the leg as he desperately tries to fend it off with a knife and a tire iron. He finally achieves temporary safety by locking himself in a phone booth, from which he calls 911 (while being held at bay by the snarling dog) to request a "bambulance," darting in and out of the booth in drunken desperation as he tries to avoid the angry mongrel while looking for landmarks and street signs to help describe his location to the harried emergency dispatcher.

Maybe this scenario hasn't quite made it to the silver screen yet, but it has provided amusement to thousands of listeners over the years because it was all captured on audio tape. Or was it?

Multiple versions of this call have been circulating via traded cassette tapes (and later over the Internet) since the 1970s, and transcripts of the call have appeared in countless newspaper columns. As expected, many different cities and states have been cited as the location where this incident supposedly took place. When the "bambulance" call spread throughout Missouri in 1989 (in a version claiming that it had taken place in Missouri), St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Elaine Viets
attempted to trace its origins. Three years after writing a column about the legend, she was eventually put in touch with one Al Clouser, a retired officer with the Poughkeepsie (New York) Police Department, who claimed he was the operator who fielded the "bambulance" call way back in February 1974. Clouser maintained that the call was real, and officers were dispatched to as many locations that fit the description given by the caller as they could think of, but the police never found any sign of the deer-bitten driver or were able to ascertain where he had placed the call from.

A hoax is indicated from internal evidence on the tape, such as the dispatcher's referring to "911" even though Poughkeepsie had no 911 service back in 1974. The fact that there are multiple versions of this tape in existence doesn't exactly inspire confidence in its authenticity, but this is not conclusive disproof, as some people might have "re-created" the call from transcripts over the years, altering and "improving" it in the process (and this seems to be the case, since a much lower-fidelity version with no mention of 911 has also made the rounds for many years). That some "re-created" versions of the call exist doesn't necessarily mean the original must have been a fabrication as well. Still, how do we know the original call wasn't merely a prank, or that the recording of it hasn't been doctored?

A 1999 article in 9-1-1 Magazine states that the most common version of the "bambulance" call (the one linked in the "Additional Information" section below) came from a 1991 phone call to the Cypress Creek EMS, an ambulance provider in the Houston area. The call was a joke, created and pulled off by Mickey Dawes, a representative of the company who provided the software for Cypress Creek's 911 system, "as a prank to loosen up a dispatcher nervous about using the unfamiliar, computer-aided dispatch system." Dawes had supposedly pulled this stunt more than once: The first time in 1980 when Dawes was a police officer in Newburgh, New York and he and a fellow officer "called it in to a dispatcher in neighboring Poughkeepsie," and again two years later "to liven up a moody Connecticut State Police dispatcher."

9-1-1 Magazine's account sounds right in some details, but not in others. It explains why the legend seemingly originated in Poughkeepsie (even though the most common version of the tape is clearly not from the Poughkeepsie call) but it doesn't explain how this recording could have been circulating back in the 1970s and how Poughkeepsie dispatcher Al Clouser could claim he fielded the original "bambulance" call back in 1974 when Mickey Dawes supposedly didn't invent the prank until 1980. Nor does it explain why Clouser would maintain to Elaine Viets many years later that the call was real, since someone surely must have clued him in that it was all a prank by then. (On the other hand, nothing in the account of Viets' sleuthing, as related by Brunvand. says that Clouser claimed the call was genuine; merely that he had indeed handled such a call and believed it to be real at the time. Perhaps as befitting his now "legendary" status, Clouser didn't want to ruin a good story with extraneous information such as his finding out later that the whole thing was a joke.)

Other equally amusing (and equally apocryphal) legends about "believed dead but merely stunned" animals have also been known for many years (see our Deja 'Roo page, for example), but our other favorite "phone call about a deceased deer" anecdote comes from a Herb Caen column:
Herb Goodman, who found a dead baby deer in his Montclair garden, dialed 911 to say, ''I need some help with a dead fawn.''

Dispatcher: ''Dead phone? Call 611.''
Additional information:
    Bambulance   "Bambulance" 911 call
    The Deer, the Dog, and the Bambulance   The Deer, the Dog, and the Bambulance
  (9-1-1 Magazine)
Sightings:   In the 1995 film Tommy Boy, Chris Farley and David Spade run into a deer, which they load into their car; the animal proceeds to wreak havoc on the automobile's interior with its antlers and hooves.

Last updated:   3 August 2011

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Baby Train.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.   ISBN 0-393-31208-9   (pp. 270-272).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story.
    Urbana: Univ. of Illinois, 2000.   ISBN 0-252-02424-9   (pp. 76-83).

    Caen, Herb.   "Man Playing Typewriter."
    The San Francisco Chronicle.   5 April 1994   (p. C1).

    Larson, Randall D.   "The Deer, the Dog, and the Bambulance."
    9-1-1 Magazine.

    Roeper, Richard.   "You Never Know When You're on the Record."
    Chicago Sun-Times.   21 June 1993   (p. 11).

    Viets, Elaine.   "A Man, a Deer, a Dog, and 911."
    St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   3 January 1989   (p. D3).

Also told in:

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 48).