John McQueeney, a 50-year-old liquor store owner, dressed as a wise man for his church's Christmas pageant on Kent Island on Sunday.
He had the jars labelled "Frankincense" and "Myrrh." He had the long brown robe and turban.
But if you bring a frisky, 600-pound camel to a religious event, don't walk away, even to greet your parents.
The Kent Island United Methodist Church's first "real life" nativity scene with 200 people and 10 live animals was interrupted when McQueeney's camel tugging loose from his rope and was killed by a motorist on U.S. 50 near Chester, according to police and witnesses.
The driver, Vinit Mody, a 50-year-old real estate agent from Columbia, hurt his back. His wife, Kiran, 47, had her face cut. Their 1989 Volvo station wagon was towed.
A second tow truck came for Ernie the one-humped camel, whose body in a glittering green blanket with gold fringe was dragged out of the road by a host of angels.
The wise man learned: "Things happen. In retrospect, I guess you should never leave your camel in a circumstance like that. So that whatever happens, you've got your hand on it."
It was unclear how the animal pulled loose at 6: 30 p.m. from the rope which tied it to an animal trailer in the church yard beside the highway, according to McQueeney and police.
The camel had come from McQueeney's 25-acre farm on Kent Island's Goose Point, where the store owner and stock investor has collected a Noah's Ark of exotic animals.
The farm also has five llamas, two kangaroos, two buffaloes, three fainting goats from Australia and a Scottish highland cow.
Mody was a bit startled by McQueeney's hobby.
"I just did not expect a camel in the road here in the United States of America," Mody said.
The real estate agent said he was driving from east on U.S. 50 with his wife toward Chestertown to take their son Niket, 21, home from Washington College.
As they passed the church, a bumpy shape leapt over the highway guardrail.
"I thought it was a deer or a horse, because it was galloping," Mody said. "The next thing we knew, it hit us."
The windshield exploded, sending glass into his wife's eyes and all over the car, Mody said. The couple was taken to the Anne Arundel Medical Center, where they were treated and released. He was back at work Tuesday, but his wife was recovering at home with a cut and swollen face.
Instead of a star shining on the manger that night, there were the flashing lights of an ambulance and tow trucks.
Parishioners who had gathered for the event were stunned, according to witnesses.
The spirit of the creche had been lost. The burly 15-year-old football player wearing cardboard wings crawled down from the manger's rooftop. The innkeeper had abandoned his sign reading "Bethlehem Inn."
"We tried to re-enact the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2. We thought it would be more special with live animals instead of wooden animals for the children to enjoy But it ended up differently, unfortunately," said the Rev. Ken Valentine, senior minister at the church.
In an attempt to lift the spirits of the children disturbed by seeing the dead camel, the church decided to plunge ahead with the nativity scenes -- minus one camel.
Pub Date: 12/24/97