Danny Speaks Jr. is an unsung star of highway safety, his boss says.
Speaks’ job is removing the carcasses of animals struck by vehicles, a task that intensifies when deers mate each fall.
The job isn’t glamorous, but it’s an important part of accident prevention, Speaks said.
“It safens highways up,” he said.
His supervisor at the S.C. Department of Transportation calls removal of dead animals vital in keeping 1,800 miles of Midlands roads clear of dangerous obstructions.
“It’s a safety issue,” said Tony Magwood, who oversees maintenance on thoroughfares in the Columbia area. “Most motorists veer around them (animal carcasses) and sometimes that creates a hazard for others on the road.”
Nearly 1.1 million pounds of dead animals were removed from state roads during the year that ended June 30, officials said. That total includes nearly 50,000 pounds in Richland County and slightly more than 42,000 pounds in Lexington County.
Crews at the state agecny handle pickup most of the time, but public works officials in Richland and Lexington counties did it 44 times last year on neighborhood streets and dirt roads.
“If you can do this job right here, you’re a pretty good worker,” said Speaks, who has been doing it 42 years for the state agency. “You’re outside by yourself, independent. Nobody is bothering you.”
Calls for cleanup – known as 10-45s in law enforcement lingo – usually come from motorists, police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews.
While deer removal is common, Speaks also picks up horses, donkeys and boars as well as smaller animals such as opossums and racoons. A winch or hand tools are used as the situation requires.
His typical day is a dozen pickups in an area stretching from Chapin to Lower Richland to Camden.
Carcasses are incinerated or buried, officials said.
Collisions involving deer increased slightly in that year, rising to 2,290 from 2,206 the year before, according to the state Department of Public Safety. It’s the first increase since 2012.
The latest count includes 98 collisions in Richland County, 53 in Lexington County and 52 in Kershaw County, records show.
Meanwhile, the cost of vehicle repairs caused by collisions with deer is staying steady, according to the South Carolina Information News Service.
Damage typically costs $3,000 to fix, the organization estimates.
The odds that a South Carolina driver will hit a deer are 93-1, 11th highest among states in the latest national claims data compiled by State Farm Insurance.
Photographer Tracy Glantz contributed to this story.