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Deer-car crashes leap up; studies debunk deer whistles

By ALLISON MILES
Dec. 2, 2011 at 6:02 a.m.
Updated Dec. 3, 2011 at 6:03 a.m.


After hitting a deer:

What's legal; what's not?

It is illegal to tag the deer and take it with you.

It is legal to move the struck animal to the side of the road.

It is legal to kill a wounded animal lying on the side of the road, although shooting it is illegal.

Sources: Rex Mays, district supervisor with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department website

One Victoria nurse learned the hard way - that at this time of year grandma isn't the only one at risk for run-ins with deer.

It was just after 9 p.m. Nov. 10 when Guadalupe Cruz climbed into her 2004 Chevrolet Avail, heading to her graveyard shift at The Devereux Foundation.

The trip began much like always.

She traveled Loop 463 past the Victoria Mall and continued into a dark patch near Old Goliad Road. When she turned a corner, however, she came too close for comfort to one deer making its way across the road.

"There was no chance to stop," Cruz said. "As soon as I hit it, smoke started coming out of my hood."

Cruz isn't alone in her encounter.

In Texas, the likelihood of hitting a deer is 1 in 403.9, according to a State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. news release.

Nationwide, that number jumps to 1 in 192.65.

And, this time of year, such close encounters are on the rise.

A couple of factors lead to more deer near roadways, said Rex Mays, district supervisor with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The ongoing drought means the only moisture available comes from dew that runs off roads, he said. Because deer have overextended food available in pastures, they gather around roadside plants.

Breeding season also plays its role, he said, noting bucks chase the does in heat at times across roadways.

Everyone has a philosophy when it comes to deer on the road, but Mays said he encourages people to slow down and avoid erratic movements that might startle the animals.

"Sometimes they do crazy stuff," he said. "It doesn't help to speed up."

Tom Posey, agency manager with Texas Farm Bureau Insurance of Victoria County, installed deer whistles on his wife's car and his own pickup awhile back just to be on the safe side.

He said the insurance agency has received numerous deer-related claims in recent weeks.

Many come in from areas between Victoria and Hallettsville and between Victoria and Cuero, he said. Others come from in town, with deer hit on Main Street and the like.

"You don't even see it coming," Posey said of some collisions. "We even have them where they'll run into the side of a moving vehicle."

Deer claims have been up 25 to 30 percent for the past two years in insurance agent Rick Wheeler's Cuero State Farm office. He attributed much of that increase to the dry conditions.

However, deer aren't the only animal to be on the lookout for, Wheeler warned. Wild hogs often do more damage than deer.

Auto repairs involving deer are on the rise at Auto Masters Collision, said Kenny Schackai, the company's operations manager.

The shop averages one to two cases a day, he said. Although he didn't have data to compare it to, he said that's up from previous years.

"We've been coming on Saturdays to keep up with them," he said, noting repairs can run anywhere from $400 to upward of $4,000. "There's a major influx."

The crew at Mac Haik Ford is also busier than usual, said Mike McCay, a damage appraiser in the body shop.

About 20 to 30 deer incidents come in per month, he said, noting October through December is the busy season for deer.

In his five years at the shop, he said he's seen deer accidents that range from $1,000 in damage to $10,000.

"It can be extreme," he said.

Crossroads resident Katie Littleton hasn't had such a run-in yet, but there have been some close calls.

The middle school tennis coach, who lives in Northpark Estates, just north of Victoria, said she often sees the animals on the side of the road when she returns home at night.

"In this field, there's a whole bunch of them," she said. "You can see them grazing."

Littleton said she slows almost to a crawl, driving 10 mph in the 35-mph zone, but said she'd rather be safe than sorry.

"I'm getting older and my eyesight's not as good as it used to be," she said. "I don't want to mess up my car."

As for Cruz, she said assistance from friends and family has helped her through the situation.

Since her car was totaled, she has used a family member's truck, and is working things out with her insurance company. She hopes to purchase a new car with her income tax money.

Cruz is also extra vigilant on the roadways, not traveling more than 55 mph and using her high beams when possible.

"I want to be safe," she said.

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