IDOT crews clear roads of carcasses

By Gus Bode

Deer-vehicle collisions rise as hunting season nears

It’s not the most glamorous job, but someone’s got to do it.

For the past four years, Mike Braun has worked as a maintenance field technician for the Illinois Department of Transportation. He fills in potholes and mows medians, but his most renowned job is collecting the carcasses of animals that meet their doom on the roadway.

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Sometimes he gets calls from motorists, but more often than not he drives along state roads slowly, looking in ditches and trying to avoid irate tailgaters.

“The driving public wonders why our trucks are going so slow and get a little upset sometimes,” said Braun, who is responsible for cleanup in Jackson and Perry counties. “But we’re just trying to pick up bodies. No one likes driving along and seeing dead animals on the road.”

And with the start of deer hunting season Friday, Braun said he and a team of others are not likely to have any slow workdays ahead. But that’s OK with him, as long as the winter chill stays away.

Deer-vehicle collisions have been on the rise for the past five years, jumping more than 9 percent last year. In 2003, 25,660 deer-vehicle accidents were reported across the state, up from 23,645 in 2002, according to IDOT.

Braun said he has noticed the trend. In the past few years, he said he has picked up more deer every day. Earlier this week, he and his crew picked up seven bodies in one morning.

“It seems like in Southern Illinois,they don’t really have any wild predators,” Braun said. “I mean there are a few coyotes that pick off the sick and weak ones, but for the most part, I think it’s just up to hunters to lower the population. Or cars.”

Master Sgt. Rick Hector, spokesman of the Illinois State Police in Springfield, said these deer-vehicle accidents occur primarily because of a lax attitude and can easily be prevented by slowing down and being more aware of surroundings.

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“Sometimes you will see one and think, ‘OK, it’s on the side of the road, everything is clear,'” Hector said. “But when there is one, there are usually more, and they are very unpredictable. They are kind of like children. When you see them in town playing near the road, your best defense is to slow down.”

While deer-vehicle crashes can happen at any time of the day, Hector said that most accidents occur in the early morning and late evening when deer are most active. For those who cannot avoid traveling at these high-traffic times, Hector said it is best to prepare for the worst and have a plan of action.

“You have to be a defensive driver and have an idea of what to do if one jumps out,” Hector said. “Most of the serious crashes occur when a driver makes an evasive movement, crosses lanes and ends up in a head-on collision or in a ditch.”

If a deer-vehicle accident occurs, the local police should be contacted immediately, as Illinois law requires all accidents resulting in $500 or more of damage to be reported.

The driver involved in the accident can take the deer, and if the driver does not want it, any Illinois resident can claim the animal. Those keeping the animal must keep a detailed record, noting the date the deer was claimed, the sex, the location of the accident and where the deer is stored in case of further investigation.

Unclaimed deer wind up in “the yard,” where they are placed in concrete bins, covered with sawdust and left to decompose.

“Usually the carcasses in one bin will decompose within 30 to 60 days,” Braun said. “It’s actually sort of a science. The heat in the pile speeds up decomposition. Most of the time, there aren’t even any bones left.”

While his job seems morbid to most, Braun said it is a necessary service, although it has its benefits and downfalls. He said it is disheartening to find a family pet along the road, but long hours pounding the pavement provide more than enough time for reflection.

“For the most part it’s not a pleasant job,” Braun said. “But it’s one of those jobs where you are kind of out on your own, taking care of things by yourself. You get to think.”

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