News

Deer pose road hazard

Last year, more than 138 deer died in car crashes in Island County. They were not behind the wheel, but under them.

The deer died after vehicles struck them around the county. The number peaks in the late fall months, otherwise known as the rut — when deer are looking for a mate.

“Basically we’ve got a sizable number of accidents caused by people hitting or avoiding deer,” Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said.

According to data from the Washington Insurance Council, the Washington Department of Transportation reported 4,537 collisions involving large, non-domestic animals between 2001 and 2003.

The majority of accidents in Island County occur on the south end of Whidbey Island, where open lands harbor a larger deer population, Hawley said.

Since Sept. 1, 233 collisions of all types have been reported on Whidbey Island. Coupeville north accounts for 128 of those accidents, 10 of which involved a deer. On the South Whidbey, 102 wrecks have been reported, 24 of which involved deer, said Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Norrie. No injuries have resulted from these accidents.

When a deer is hit on Island County roads, crews respond to the scene to collect the remains. The carcasses are then buried at undisclosed locations around the county. WSDOT must respond to calls on SR 20 and SR 525, said Jack Taylor, supervisor of the Island County Roads Department.

“Their areas are getting smaller and smaller, so they’re competing with roadways for space,” Taylor said. This year, crews have collected 116 deer from county roads, he said.

Hawley said he is no stranger to the perils of colliding with large animals. He said he hit a run-away horse while on patrol one night.

“This horse just bolted from behind a hedge,” Hawley said. “All of a sudden I was sitting in this pool of glass and blood underneath this horse.”

He said his brand new patrol car was totaled — a problem Norrie said is common after a collision with a large animal. Repairs can cost up to $3,500, Norrie said.

Hawley said drivers can take some precautionary steps to avoid the pain of hitting a deer. Avoid following other cars too closely, especially on wet roadways and allow more room to stop. Deer can also scamper across roads unexpectedly, so be aware of deer along the road as well.

“Just because a deer is stopped, there’s no reason of why they decide to bolt,” Hawley said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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