FORT WAYNE — One jumped in front of a tractor-trailer rig barreling down Interstate 69 in the middle of the night, causing a collision that resulted in the blockage of two lanes.
Another met its fate on the front bumper of a Ford Taurus on U.S. 24 just west of Amber Road, and yet another ran in front of a black Pontiac Grand Prix not far from Homestead High School.
In that collision, the vehicle’s air bags deployed and hurt the driver’s face.
Those details are just a smattering of the crashes that have occurred in Fort Wayne over the past two weeks involving deer.
It’s the time of year when deer begin mating and the silent fields where they’ve roamed all summer become inundated with the sounds of tractors and harvesting equipment. That means the deer are running and moving, sometimes right in front of cars and trucks on highways and roads, causing an increase in crashes involving the animals.
“It’s already started,” said Dwight Jewett, owner of Auto Collision Service. “It’s in full swing. Last year, we had close to 100 (customers involved in deer-vehicle crashes). We’ll have more than that this year.”
Deer-vehicle collisions are three times more likely to occur in November than any other month, according to a report released last week by State Farm Insurance.
And while these types of collisions dropped nationwide in the last three years and an Indiana agency shows a decline, new data from State Farm show a rise.
Traditionally, Indiana has always ranked in the middle of the pack nationwide when it comes to deer crashes, according to the report.
West Virginia usually tops the list, with South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania rounding out the top five in various order depending on the year.
In the latest State Farm study, the chance of a motorist striking a deer in Indiana between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, was 1 in 163, which placed Indiana 27th among states.
During the same period the previous year, the chance a motorist would hit a deer on an Indiana road was 1 in 170.
Nationwide, State Farm – which conducted the study using claims data and the number of licensed driver counts from the federal government – found that crashes involving deer increased by 7.7 percent between July 2011 and June of this year.
“Anecdotally, this time of year does point to an increase of deer-versus-car crashes,” said Phil Bloom, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, citing mating season and farmers’ harvesting fields as the main reasons deer become more active.
“But as a side note,” Bloom said, “One of the things everyone needs to understand is that State Farm is one insurance company using data from their clients.”
According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which tracks crash statistics through the Indiana State Police, deer crashes have been declining slightly the past few years.
In 2009, there were more than 16,800 such crashes statewide. That number dipped to just below 16,000 in 2010 and then was just below 15,800 last year.
It’s hard to account for such a decrease, but several factors could be happening to keep the crashes down, Bloom said.
Changes to hunting laws regarding the number of deer that hunters can harvest and different bag limits imposed by the Department of Natural Resources have allowed hunters to increase their harvest, Bloom said.
Therefore, there might be fewer deer to dart in front of cars.
“As we harvest more deer, we manage the population,” Bloom said. “Perhaps the overall population is starting to level off, to the point where there are fewer deer accidents.”
Also, a deadly virus has killed deer in at least four Indiana counties and is suspected to have killed deer in more than 51 counties. But it’s too early to tell whether that virus would thin out the population to the point that the number of crashes would be affected, Bloom said.
Every year, Jewett – the owner of Auto Collision Service – gives away a turkey or ham provided by Ossian Meats to customers that bring him a vehicle that’s been damaged in a crash involving deer.
Jewett describes those who have gone through the experience of hitting a deer as being “violated.” In traditional crashes involving two vehicles, there is usually someone to deal with in the aftermath. They hit you, or you hit them, there is discussion, insurance agents and a settlement.
In deer crashes, Jewett said, the animal comes from nowhere. Then, it’s either dead or runs off. You and your damaged car are all that’s left, and you are stuck dealing with the situation.
“I don’t want to offend the PETA people, we’re just trying to give back,” Jewett said. “When I came up with this, it was more to just give something away that’s worth giving away. We’re really not telling people to go hit a deer.”
But Jewett still plans on giving a lot of meat away this year.
“We’ve already had at least 10 people come in,” he said. “And it’s so early. It never starts this early.”