In a city with six interstates, all sorts of stuff tends to turn up on the roadside—abandoned vehicles and bounced luggage are the least of it. There’s also a mysterious class of discoveries you cannot even imagine or, at first, explain. An extreme example: In the late nineties on westbound I-20 in Douglas County, police answering a call about an unattended car found fragments of a female body scattered along the roadside. Authorities eventually closed that whodunit—a hit-and-run during a rainstorm, the young woman’s body struck by multiple vehicles—but other mysteries go unsolved.
An April morning. A Tuesday in 2008. On the I-75 overpass at exit 201 in Henry County, the blue lights of a parked police cruiser flash as Lieutenant Matt Garrison of the Butts County Sheriff’s Office directs traffic around a tow truck and a disabled vehicle. Four huge truck stops are clustered at the top of exit 201—it’s like a little trucker village, with almost everything a long-distance traveler might need: gasoline, overnight parking, private showers, truck scales, convenience stores, laundry facilities, drivers lounges, RV dump stations, restaurants, and a truck wash. Untold thousands of travelers stop at exit 201 each year as they journey to or from anywhere along the 1,787-mile interstate, which starts in Hialeah, Florida, just north of Miami, and runs through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, ending at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on the Canadian border. As Lieutenant Garrison works, a woman in an RV rolls past, lowers her window, and says, “Excuse me, but there’s a zebra down there.”
Sure enough, at the foot of the ramp, a zebra stands on the overgrown shoulder in the midmorning sun. The grass is knee-high to a human there, and thick, and the zebra is calmly grazing. He’s about the size of one of those ponies kids ride at petting zoos, and he’s wearing a blue lead rope attached to a blue halter, but nothing about his appearance suggests where he came from or when, or how he had appeared out of nowhere on the side of a major highway.
A small crowd of authorities soon gathers, including wildlife biologists and other agents summoned from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The zebra doesn’t try to run, but he doesn’t want anyone touching him, either. If someone takes two steps toward him, the zebra takes two steps back. Garrison and a colleague grab the bridle. Then they start to walk him. Which is when they notice the blood.