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updated: 5/29/2014 6:11 AM

Deer that hit van may have been startled off overpass

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  • A doe crosses Route 31 in Elgin. Female deer are on the move this time of year, experts say.

      A doe crosses Route 31 in Elgin. Female deer are on the move this time of year, experts say.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • Video: Mom describes deer hitting her

 
 

High school football fields. Metra train tracks. Backyard sandboxes.

These familiar sights in the suburbs double as a sanctuary for a creature on the move from May to June.

"This time of year, they can show up in some pretty strange places," Marty Jones says of suburban deer.

The Elgin-based wildlife biologist is tasked with addressing problems posed by deer in urban settings for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Chief among them are the hazards for drivers.

In what doctors called a miracle, a West Dundee mom and her four children this week avoided serious injuries when a doe jumped off the Route 72 overpass and landed on their minivan traveling roughly 70 miles per hour on the Jane Adams Tollway near Hoffman Estates.

Female deer popping up in broad daylight -- the freak collision occurred about noon Sunday -- are not unheard of, Jones said.

Hoffman Estates Fire Battalion Chief Patrick Fortunato, one of the emergency responders mystified by the accident, thinks the deer got spooked and lept off the overpass, where road construction funnels drivers into two lanes north of a heavily wooded forest preserve.

"They can be very unpredictable once they get panicked," Jones said.

In 2012, there were 15,488 reported collisions involving deer, according to the latest Illinois Department of Transporation tallies. Four people were killed, and 608 were injured.

The peak time for collisions is breeding season in November. Spring accounts for the second-highest total thanks to certain rituals.

To raise fawns, does are searching for quiet areas secluded from the rest of the herd. The mother briefly leaves her offspring to keep predators off her scent and returns to the fawning site to nurse, sometimes in head-scratching places: underneath swing sets and tucked behind air conditioning units, Jones said.

Does also are driving off older fawns born last year. That sends the young deer roaming for their own territory. The yearlings are known to follow commuter train lines and highways for secure routes from one area to the next.

"It's kind of a new learning process for them," Jones said. "They don't know where the roadways are and all the other hazards."

Jones advises drivers to use caution during rush hour -- dawn and dusk -- when deer are most mobile. If one deer dashes onto the road, more from the same herd could follow suit.

To chip away at crashes, states have experimented with wildlife overpasses and roadside warning signs with sensors. When a deer crosses a laser beam, lights start flashing on the signs, alerting drivers. But the devices have met mixed results, Jones said.

Sounding the alarm about the animal's behavior is one of the most effective ways to guard against collisions, he said.

"This is the time of year motorists should be aware deer are pretty active," he said.

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