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Deer crash threat high in Pennsylvania

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 7:36 a.m.
A collision technician at Mignogna Collision Center in Hempfield Township repairs damage to a vehicle that struck a deer. Collisions in Pennsylvania killed 115,571 deer in 2011-12, the most in the nation. 
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
A collision technician at Mignogna Collision Center in Hempfield Township repairs damage to a vehicle that struck a deer. Collisions in Pennsylvania killed 115,571 deer in 2011-12, the most in the nation. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

Everyone in Western Pennsylvania has a deer story.

And that's just the drivers.

The chance a driver will hit a deer on a Pennsylvania roadway is 1 in 76 this year, according to insurance experts. And last year, more deer died in vehicle crashes in Pennsylvania than any other state, according to a new survey.

“We're in the heart of when it's most dangerous. November is the worst month,” said Dave Phillips, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, which conducted the survey.

“And you now have that happening with hunting going on,” he said. “You stand that much more of a chance seeing them standing in the roadway.”

Because of the Appalachian Mountains, the chance of hitting a deer probably increases, he said. The likelihood in bordering West Virginia is slightly better than 1 in 40, the highest in the country.

As if it's not hard enough to elude the state's 750,000 licensed hunters, deer are challenged to dodge traffic, even in urban areas.

Monday marked the beginning of the state's two-week firearm hunting season. Deer, which travel in packs, often are startled by the sound of gunfire and hunters moving through the woods and leap into roadways in early morning and at night, Phillips said.

Last year, 115,571 deer were killed in vehicle collisions in Pennsylvania, according to the survey. That's 17,715 more than in Michigan, which had the second-highest number.

At Mignogna Collision Center in Hempfield, the calls started trickling in a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and now Patsy Mignogna said 29 deer-ravaged vehicles sit on his lot awaiting a mechanic's skills.

“That's typical for us,” he said. “Deer do a lot of damage.”

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Mignogna, company president, offered a free turkey to drivers who brought in vehicles damaged by deer.

He gave away 32 turkeys.

“We don't do it for the business,” he said. “We know we're going to get them. It's the luck of the draw if you don't hit a deer.”

Vehicles hit by deer usually sustain front-end or side damage, and repairs typically cost between $3,000 and $5,000, experts estimate.

Five vehicles were marked to be repaired for deer damage Monday at Wolbert Auto Body and Repair in Crafton.

“It's just that time of year,” said Jessica Bittner, office manager. “They're everywhere. People are hitting them real close to the city. You don't need to be out in the boonies.”

To alert drivers, 3,330 deer crossing signs are posted on state-owned roads where deer roam, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission requests the signs when field officers notice a well-traveled area.

Across the state, there were 3,403 crashes and nine fatalities involving at least one deer last year, according to PennDOT.

Allegheny County reported 182 crashes, the most in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Westmoreland, which had the second-most with 123 crashes, had the only fatality involving a deer in the region.

Drivers should slow down at dusk and dawn, said J.J. Miller, safety adviser for AAA. She advises drivers to try to stay in their lane and not swerve to avoid a deer because it could cause more serious damage.

“The problem with deer at this time is if you see one, another may be following,” she said. “They could jump out of anywhere. You'll see deer wander around city areas.”

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or

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