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Officials urge caution after fatal car accident with deer in Concord

New Hampshire Sunday News

June 17. 2017 8:55PM
When deer cross the roadways, drivers are at risk. (N.H. Fish and Game)

If you've driven on New Hampshire's highways lately, you've probably noticed: There seems to be an awful lot of deer getting hit by motor vehicles.

State Trooper Derek Myrdek patrols I-89 from Bow to Sutton and I-93 from Hooksett to Canterbury. "It's definitely been a busy spring as far as deer are concerned," he said. "It seems like every other day, I'm pulling a dead deer out of the roadway."

Deer-vehicle crashes can have deadly consequences for motorists.

A 97-year-old Concord woman died from injuries she suffered when the car in which she was a passenger hit a deer and then got rear-ended by a tractor-trailer on I-93 in Concord on May 30.

Myrdek is investigating that accident.

Based on witness reports, he said, the driver, Ann Carignan, 55, of Concord, "hit the deer and came to a stop or almost a dead stop" on the highway.

The driver of a tractor-trailer traveling behind Carignan was unable to avoid hitting her Nissan Sentra, Myrdek said. "It was a pretty heavy traffic time of day so there really wasn't anywhere for him to go, unfortunately," he said.

Carignan and her 97-year-old mother, Mary Carignan, also of Concord, were both seriously hurt. Mary Carignan was taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, where she later succumbed to her injuries, Myrdek said.

The deer, he said, was "a major factor" in the crash, which is still under investigation.

On June 10, an elderly Maine woman was seriously injured in Rochester after a deer leaped over the motorcycle on which she was a passenger.

Clifford Wescott, 84, of Wells, Maine, was operating a Spyder three-wheel motorcycle on Route 11 with a passenger, Carol Delisle, 80, also of Wells, Maine, on board. A deer crossed the road and attempted to leap over the motorcycle, according to a news release from Rochester police.

The deer grazed Wescott's helmet and knocked Delisle off the vehicle, dislodging her helmet, according to state police. She suffered head injuries and was airlifted to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she remained hospitalized in serious condition last week.

Dan Bergeron is the deer project leader for New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. He doesn't have the data yet to say whether there have been more deer-vehicle collisions this year, but said he's "seen a fair amount" of dead deer on the roadways himself.

Bergeron said there are certain times of the year when collisions spike, and "the spring is one of them."

"After winter, deer start moving around a lot, looking for food and trying to put weight back on," he said. "Particularly the adult does that have given birth and are nursing, so they have really high energy requirements for taking care of their fawns."

And this time of year, after does give birth, they kick their yearlings out. So those youngsters are likely to be wandering.

Fall is breeding season, and that's when lots of deer are on the move, Bergeron said. Almost a third of all deer-vehicle collisions in New Hampshire occur from mid-October through the end of November.

Fish and Game distributes slips to local police departments to record roadkill; it's how the agency keeps track of the number of deer killed on the roads.

Bergeron said a higher number of collisions does correlate with a larger deer population. He estimates that New Hampshire's current deer population is around 100,000.

That's a big rebound since the population crashed in the 1980s, "due to some really severe winters and some pretty liberal harvests," he said.

Back then, the Legislature set the hunting season, he said. Now Fish and Game has the authority to set seasons, managing the deer population by controlling how many days hunters can take does.

Hunters killed 10,675 deer in New Hampshire last year.

That may sound like a lot, but it turns out deer are pretty good at reproducing, according to Bergeron. Fish and Game studies have shown that around 90 percent of female deer will get pregnant each year.

Not all the fawns will survive the first month of life, he said, but "if they make it past that, they usually have a pretty good chance."

About half of the fawns born each year are female.

Bergeron advises drivers to be especially alert to deer by roadsides at dawn and dusk, the times when the animals are most active. Drive the speed limit, wear your seatbelt, and scan the areas ahead of you, he said.

"If you're familiar with areas where you've seen wildlife ... keep those areas in mind. That might be an area, particularly at dawn or dusk, where you might want to go a little slower."

And, he said, "If you see one deer cross in front of you, don't keep your eyes on that animal; make sure there's not another coming behind it."

Some states have experimented with using various types of "deer crossing" signs to try to get drivers to slow down in areas frequented by wildlife; some even used deer carcasses or decoys to make the point. But there's no evidence such tactics reduce the number of deer-vehicle crashes, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. "Most research ... demonstrates that these signs have negligible effect on driver behavior or animal mortality," said state traffic engineer William Lambert.

What about those sonic devices sold to repel deer? Bergeron said there's no evidence they work. "I'm not aware of anything that's been proven to work for deer," he said.

Myrdek said it's almost impossible to avoid hitting a deer if it leaps in front of your car. "A lot of times hitting the animal itself isn't bad; it's what you do to avoid hitting the animal that can take a bad situation and make it worse."

It's not like hitting a moose, which can cause serious injuries to driver and animal alike, he said.

"A deer typically isn't that big," he said. "I haven't been to really any deer accidents where somebody was injured as a result of hitting the deer. It was as a result of trying to avoid it or what they did after the fact that always causes the injuries and more damage."

"Sometimes just hitting the deer is the least worst thing that can happen," he said.

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