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Deadly crash in Orleans County points to deer season highway hazards

There are about 65,000 collisions between vehicles and deer in New York State each year.

Few are as bad as the one in the Orleans County Town of Gaines on Thursday, which killed two people.

But the period from October to December is the peak season for car-deer collisions, the Department of Motor Vehicles says. It's a period that corresponds in part with deer hunting – and mating – season.

The collision total was estimated by State Farm Insurance in 2015, which said the average damage tab for crashes was $4,000.

About 200 American motorists die each year from crashing into deer, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Department of Environmental Conservation says the population of deer in the state is rising, which in turn leads to more encounters on the roads between drivers and deer.

Amherst alone had 1,075 car-deer accidents from 2015 through 2017.

"When you see a deer-crossing sign along a highway, that means deer have been seen at that location and have collided with cars there," said Mark J.F. Schroeder, state DMV commissioner and chairman of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee. "Those signs are meant to warn you to be extra cautious when driving through such locations."

And the message from AAA, the nation's largest auto club, is simple: For your own safety, hit the deer if you have to.

"If a collision is unavoidable, apply the brakes firmly and remain in your lane," a AAA news release said. "Swerving sharply to avoid an animal can often cause a more serious crash."

That may have been what happened Thursday when Brooke E. Allen, 21, of Lyndonville, and her passenger, Richard Forder, 20, of Albion, were killed shortly before 7 a.m.

Orleans County Undersheriff Christopher Bourke said deputies found a 2000 Nissan sedan upside down, submerged in 5 to 6 feet of water in a creek below Route 104.

They concluded that Allen's auto was eastbound when it struck and killed a deer it may have been trying to avoid. The car went out of control, skidding across the road to the left and crashing over a guard rail. It then traveled down an embankment and struck a concrete culvert before rolling into the creek, Bourke said.

It had been two years since Orleans County's last deer-related fatal wreck. Just before 6:30 a.m. Aug. 27, 2017, William M. Carpenter III, 60, of Lyndonville died when his motorcycle struck a deer on Gaines-Waterport Road in Carlton.

And on April 11, 2017, in Gaines, Brian M. Arnett, 39, died after his car struck a deer on Eagle Harbor Road and rolled over several times.

The most common time for striking a deer on the road is the two hours after sunset and the two hours before sunrise, the DMV said in a news release.

The DEC said that deer often travel in groups, so drivers who see one on or near the road should slow down, because more deer likely will come along. Deer also tend to "bolt," or change direction unexpectedly, so drivers who see deer near the road need to be more cautious.

Two-thirds of car-deer crashes occur in the final three months of the year, according to the DMV. There were 9,700 such crashes in New York in the final three months of 2016, according to AAA. Erie County ranked third in the state for car-deer collisions that fall, and second during November 2016, when there were 202 car-deer wrecks in Erie County.

That was the month William R. Stock, 52, was killed on Willardshire Road in Aurora. His motorcycle struck a deer at 7:20 a.m. Nov. 2, 2016, and then Stock was run over by a school bus.

AAA said 83% of the November 2016 deer crashes happened while it was dark, with 5 to 7 p.m. being the peak period of risk.

The State Legislature ordered the DEC to compile a report on the deer situation in New York late last year. A study cited in that report said that posting the signs and reducing speed limits in deer-prone areas seems to reduce the number and severity of car-deer crashes.

New York State is believed to be home to about 1 million deer. An Iowa State University deer crash report said the estimate for New York was 960,000 in 2013. The DEC's 2018 report declared that New York has an "overabundance of deer." And the agency admitted that it hasn't been able to do much about it.

"Hunting is the principal mechanism for deer population control," the report said, since deer reproduction is far outpacing mortality.

But in recent years, the number of deer killed by hunters has been trending down, as the animals are seen in more urban and suburban areas, including areas where hunting is effectively banned by local laws forbidding the discharge of firearms.

In 2017, the last year for which the state has released figures, hunters killed 203,000 deer in New York State. That was 10,000 fewer than the previous year and 105,000 below the all-time record, which was set in 2002.

In Erie County, the DEC said, hunters killed 5,626 deer in 2017.

Besides the 1,075 car-deer crashes in Amherst, the town culled 571 deer from 2015 through 2017, Police Chief John Askey said last year. That means they were shot out of season after the DEC issued a permit to do so, in an effort to reduce the deer population in the town.

The number of state deer management permits issued to hunters peaked at slightly under 700,000 in 2003. In 2017, the DEC issued 617,000 permits, but only 12% of those hunters reported actually killing any deer.

DEC spokesman Jomo A. Miller said Saturday that the department is trying to promote hunting, especially by young people and women, in hopes of increasing those figures.

"There's a concerted effort on DEC's part to get people involved, and that will continue," Miller said.

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