"At first we thought it was fake," rescuer Billi West says of the bird, who was stuck in the grille of a car

By Amy Jamieson
Updated October 11, 2016 01:46 PM
eagle - touts
Credit: Billi West

Billi West is calling Saturday the “best day ever.” That’s the day Matthew the bald eagle became her back seat driver.

West and her son Zach Bombard helped rescue the bird from the grille of a car over the weekend and took him to him to safety in their own car using a dog crate.

The pair were in shock when they spotted the bird hanging from the grille of a moving car on Saturday. “My son and I were headed to check on a property we own for any damage and the driver of the vehicle turned left in front of us,” she said in an email to PEOPLE. “I looked at my son and said, ‘Did you see that?!??!’ At first we thought it was fake; however, the eagle (we [later] named Matthew) turned and looked right at us.”

They immediately cut across traffic to catch up with the driver. “We honked and waived him down,” she said. “He stopped and just could not believe it!”

eagle - no touts
Credit: Billi West

The driver, who did not want to be identified, told West two eagles flew down in front of his vehicle when he was driving about 60 mph. Unable to stop, he saw one fly off and thought they both escaped. “He had no idea one was hit and in the grill of his vehicle,” West said.

West called her husband Sgt. Kenny West, a Clay County police officer, and he sent officers and firefighters to assist with the bird’s rescue. Meanwhile, West’s son ran home to get a dog crate for transport. After the fire rescue team removed him from the grille of the car, “we were able to push him into the crate,” she said.

The drive with Matthew — who was named for the hurricane — about halfway to a wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary called B.E.A.K.S., is one West won’t soon forget, “Best day ever to have a healthy rescued eagle in my car!” she said.

A Facebook update on the Clay County Sheriff’s Office page shared a picture of the stunning bird with a hopeful message.

“A tip of the hat to the great folks at the BEAKS Sanctuary. They are nursing Bald Eagle Matthew back to health and facilitating his release soon back into the wild (the wilds of his Fleming Island habitat, that is),” said the post. “Our members are proud to have been part of Matthew’s rescue.”

To donate to B.E.A.K.S., click here.