Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bad day for quadripeds

Two hours after Eight Belles was euthanized at Churchill Downs, my car collided with a deer, killing it.

Saturday evening, I was driving south in rural Chester County from one friend's party to another's, 50 mph in a 45 zone, something like that. No twilight left, scarce street lamps, acres and acres of fields and forest on either side of the road.

Holly and I were chatting on the phone when I cut a sentence short with a noise she at first took for a cough. It was actually a blend of a scream and a holler - "AWGH!"

If it were a film, the deer would have appeared for one frame, like those subliminal messages they used to splice into movies, "Drink Pepsi" or whatthehellever. But even in that one frame, I could tell it had sprinted toward my car diagonally from my 10:00 or 10:30. WHOMP.

I pulled the car off the road and hurriedly got off with Holly after assuring her I was OK. Which I was and am ... no soreness or anything.

I didn't really know what to do, having never hit a deer or anticipated doing so. I figured I should check out the damage to the car and the deer, and since I was about a hundred yards from the deer and had no veterinary supplies with me, it seemed OK to give the car a look-see first.

It was inconceivable. The car was 99.44% intact. No scratches, no dents; windows all unbroken and obeying the up and down switches, doors all worked. The only casualty was my sideview mirror, which was simply gone. Three wires were sticking out there, but the mirror itself and the whole casing, whatever you call it, was MIA.

I processed all this (just the lack of dents and the absent mirror; I fiddled with latches and switches later) in a second, then jogged back to where the deer was, but I could see from the car that it was still, lying perfectly parallel to the road on the double yellow center line.

I got closer and felt a little better when I saw that it wasn't twitching or anything. My best guess: it slammed its head on my mirror and died instantly. That's an 80 mph collision, 50 from me and probably 30 from him/her.

I didn't want to look directly at the dead deer, but I'm pretty sure it was a doe because I probably would remember antlers. My car certainly would.

I'm not in the business of touching bleeding wild animals with ungloved hands, and I worried that another car could hit the deer and get in another accident, so I called 911. Once they found out I and the car were OK, they seemed most interested in finding out exactly how many yards south of the cross street I was, because I was near a township boundary. I gave it my best guess and got off the phone, waiting for the police officer they said would come and take a crash report.

I had no idea whether it would be worth it to file a report -- the cost of replacing a sideview mirror probably won't approach my insurance deductible -- but I used the wait time to settle down, too.

Ten minutes later, a truck coming north slowed and pulled to the shoulder when it saw the deer. I figured this was a municipal employee of some sort who'd been enlisted to drag the carcass out of the road; it was about the amount of time I'd expected the response to take. But then as the guy appeared to be hauling the deer into the bed of his truck -- gross -- a southbound police officer stopped his car and told the guy to leave it. I guess it was just some dude who wanted deer jerky for the rest of the summer.

Cop then chatted with me (turned out he knows several people who apparently still work at my former paper in the area) and took a report, and I got out of there. I stopped at the homestead to get swim trunks and switch to the family's utility car, a Jeep, for the short trip to the other (hot tub) party.

This morning, Mom and I drove back to the crash site and found my mirror. It had sailed over the car and landed on the passenger side of the road. Couldn't find the glass, but the casing and the mechanical piece that moves the glass were there. I'll come back next weekend to get some body-work estimates; I'm using the Jeep in the meantime.

I still can't believe my luck. If you can find someone who crashed into a deer and has less to complain about than me, good for you. If the running deer had angled five degrees to its left, or if it had been faster, or if it had had antlers, or if I hadn't worn a seat belt, or if I had been some drunk nitwit straddling the median, it would have been disaster.

You can say I shouldn't have been on the phone in a known deer area, and, OK, I guess. But I had zero chance to see the deer earlier than I did, in the complete dark, and once I saw the deer it was as close to the car as you are to your computer's monitor.

The fact is, on roads like this, there's pretty much nothing you can do. Deer are everywhere. They cross the road all the time. They're hunger-emboldened (or full and stupid) so they scamper right in front of cars all the time. I travel the Garden State Parkway frequently, too, and I have almost never not seen deer milling around in the median or shoulder.

Anyway, I figured if I didn't blog about this, I might as well delete the damned thing. Glad to be back. Be careful out there, folks.


  1. Whoa, you didn't tell me about the deer jerky guy. Gross.

    And this answers my question about Eight Belles and euthanasia:

    But it doesn't answer my question about humans and euthanasia.

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  4. So this is what it takes to get you to update your blog? I would have taken a baseball bat to your mirror weeks ago!

    Seriously, I'm so amazed and grateful this was not a whole lot worse.