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Motorists, deer on collision course

November 26, 1996


Staff Writer

Keedysville resident Elden Kinna has had three accidents in the seven months since he bought his Mercury Cougar. The common thread in all three wrecks: deer.

"I've had the car seven months and I've had three accidents," he said.

Kinna's car has sustained almost $7,000 worth of damage in those accidents. He's had the headlights and front grille replaced and the hood has been damaged.

Last year, 1,368 deer were killed on Tri-State roads. That was fewer than the year before, when more than 1,500 deer died in highway accidents.


Wildlife officials and auto mechanics say they believe the number will be much higher this year.

Officials from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia said they will not have figures for 1996 until the end of the year.

But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence.

Mary Lou Mace, co-owner of Mace's Auto Body Shop in Smithsburg, said the shop has been working nonstop. The shop normally gets a lot of business because of deer damage, she said, but this year that damage has been particularly bad.

"Twice as bad," she said.

Mace said she made 16 estimates just last week, with damages ranging from between $1,000 and $6,000 a car. She said both the number and size of the deer appear to be up over last year.

"They're really big this year - much bigger," Mace said. "They're making the cars undrivable ... Now, they're getting more brazen."

November traditionally is the time of the year when deer accidents are most common, according to wildlife officials. That's because it is mating season and deer become a lot more aggressive when looking for mates.

"Living in Western Maryland, you'd think people would be aware," said Patty Manown, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "But people seem more surprised, calling in and asking: `Why are there more deer now?'"

Kinna is not surprised, just frustrated.

Accident No. 1, which cost him about $2,200, occurred on Downsville Pike, he said.

In the second accident, which cost him about $700, Kinna said he hit a small deer on Sharpsburg Pike near Antietam Battlefield.

"There were two of them standing in the middle of the road and I knew I was going to hit one of them," he said.

Repairs from the third accident, which happened about a month ago, cost about $4,000. In that case, Kinna said, a deer ran out from behind another car on Md. 34 and smashed into his car head-on.

"I was almost home and it came from behind another car going in the opposite direction," he said. "The deer didn't stand a chance and neither did I."

Robinwood Drive resident Debra Schepp said she had her run-in with a deer about three weeks ago on Md. 15 just south of Frederick. The collision caused about $2,000 damage to her 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan. Schepp said the crash was upsetting, but it could have been worse.

"We just feel lucky that we were high enough that the deer hit the side of the car," she said. "If we had been in a smaller car, it could have gone right through the windshield."

Close encounters

The number of deer hit each year rises and falls. But wildlife experts said Tri-State residents can expect encounters with deer to increase as development encroaches on their habitat.

And there aren't a lot of natural predators tracking deer.

"There's no mountain lions or wolves to reduce them and they can't be hunted, so they increase pretty much unchallenged," said Gary Strawn, a district wildlife biologist in West Virginia.

Doug Hotten, deer project leader for the Maryland DNR, said bow hunting has been allowed in some densely populated areas as a way to keep deer herd growth in check.

Officials track deer deaths on the highways as one indication of the overall health of the population. Those figures, combined with hunting statistics, indicate the population is healthy, they said.

Hotten said deer accidents are likely to increase with development, if for no other reason than there will be more cars on the road.

"Another factor, which people often don't consider, is the number of people driving cars," he said. "When there's more people on the roads, more deer are going to get hit."

Leister B. Stottlemyer Jr., of Foxville Road, already knew that. He was returning home from Waynesboro, Pa., two weeks ago when a deer jumped out of nowhere on Md. 64 just north of Bickle Road.

Like so many accidents involving deer, the sky was dark and the animal froze when it saw the headlights, he said.

"We looked up and the deer was there," Stottlemyer said. "There was no way you could avoid hitting it."

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