Deadly crash highlights deer danger

jmonk@thestate.comSeptember 16, 2013 

— The deaths of a husband and wife whose Kawasaki motorcycle struck a deer on a rural Barnwell County road over the weekend are a reminder of the threat these animals pose to motorists statewide.

“Deer don’t look both ways before they cross the road,” said Barnwell County coroner Lloyd Ward. “They just jump.”

David Lee, 56, and his wife, Carolyn Lee, 55, both of Barnwell, had just been out riding and enjoying the evening, Ward said. They were found dead at the scene on S.C. 41 around 8 p.m. Sunday. They leave three adult children.

Their deaths bring to three the number of motorists killed in deer-related accidents so far this year, according to preliminary data compiled by the S.C. Department of Public Safety highway statistics office. Six people died last year.

Now, with hunting season in full swing and deer mating season about to begin, the risk to South Carolina drivers will increase, officials say.

October and November are historically the worst months for deer-vehicle collisions, according to State Farm Insurance Agency, which notes the average property damage when a vehicle hits a deer is about $3,300.

In 2012 in South Carolina, 518 people were injured in deer-human collisions and 1,935 vehicles or other property were damaged, according to the Department of Public Safety. So far this year, as of Aug. 31, 238 people have been injured and 805 cases of property damage to vehicles have been reported.

South Carolina’s deer population peaked in the late 1990s around 1 million, one expert said, noting it’s down to about 750,000 today.

“Occasionally, I will talk to folks, and they will say, ‘Well, the deer didn’t get out of my way.’ Well, deer don’t think like that,” said Charles Ruth, an S.C. Department of Natural Resources deer biologist who’s widely recognized as a leading authority on state deer population and behavior.

Ruth and S.C. Highway Patrol Cpl. Sonny Collins gave these tips on deer-vehicle collisions:

If a collision with a deer looks imminent, do not swerve but hit the deer. “This wouldn’t work with a motorcycle, but most of the injuries come in when people try to avoid a deer and hit a tree or something like that,” Ruth said.

Use your high beams, which can travel farther and spread out more to either side of the road. “The light can also reflect off a deer’s eyes,” said Collins.

Take extra care an hour before and after sunset. That’s when deer, who sleep during the day, are getting up or looking for a place to bed down. It’s also mating season, and deer are moving more than usual in search of mates.

Slow down at night.

Ironically, it’s not the counties with the most deer that have the most accidents, Ruth said, but the counties with the most roads and people.

The motorcycle riders in Sunday’s accident, on S.C. 41, were both wearing helmets at the time of the crash, Barnwell coroner Ward said.

Ward, too, had a close call Sunday with a deer.

“I almost hit one going to the scene of the accident,” he said.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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