Following the posted speed limit may save your life

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Missouri's deer population is on the move this time of year and they are a serious threat to people's safety and vehicles. I was reminded of this while driving to work in the dark Nov. 3.

It was nearly 9 p.m., and I had just exited U.S. Highway 50 and was heading south toward the Spirit Gate alongside Knob Noster State Park. There I was, happily driving to the base in support of a big exercise and Bam! I had only a quick glimpse of something bounding directly in front of my car before I heard and felt the violent and loud impact to my beloved '94 Ford Probe. It was a deer.

As I skid to a stop on the shoulder of the road, I remember my ears weren't picking up sound--it was temporary silence due to the loud noise. This was an indicator as to how severe the collision was. The next thing that was readily apparent was that I was breathing a lot of smoke. I rolled down my window and exhaled a large plume, like I'd just had a healthy puff from a quality cigar. The smoke had come from the two front seat airbags that had gone off after being packed nearly 17 years ago. I was surprised they actually worked. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the deer was laying in the road right next to my driver-side door. It wasn't moving.

Another car, traveling the opposite direction, stopped on the other side of the road right away. This nice lady yelled over, asking if I was ok. Coming out of the shock, I thought, "Oh yeah, am I ok?" I looked myself over and checked my reflection in the rear view mirror -- then answered to her, "I think so." She walked over to my vehicle and made sure I got out of it ok before calling 9-1-1. I was a bit disoriented; there were two deflated airbags hanging down from the dash and smoke was pouring out of my car. I thought how goofy I must have looked to this nice woman...like Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in Vacation after he wrecked the Family Truckster on the way to 'Wally World.' Soon after, a few other motorists stopped to assist. As I woozily walked around my car to survey the damage two of these motorists, Pete and Zack, made sure I knew I had bagged myself a nice eight-point buck. I later realized I knew Pete from flying T-38's, as he is part of the maintenance team. Zack relayed that he worked at the Exchange on base. They pulled the fallen young stag out of the road and offered to take my picture with him. I obliged. All of the people who stopped to assist were extremely helpful and concerned for my well being. Later, a Missouri State Trooper arrived on scene. While sitting in the Trooper's cruiser, as he took my information and recorded the accident, I saw Pete and Zack working on the deer with a handsaw. They presented me with the buck's antlers as a trophy when I got out of the cruiser.

This incident turned out ok, as no one was injured. The deer died instantly and my car had to be towed with a smashed front end and windshield. The Probe had been a reliable vehicle, even making the trip with me to Korea and back on a remote tour. I'll miss it. The Trooper told me that this was the fourth deer accident he worked in his last three days on duty. I had no reaction time to slow down or to avoid the deer. Even if you do see a deer in time, "jinking" to avoid one is inadvisable. The deer may survive in this case, while your car flips into the ditch or into oncoming traffic. When driving at night in this part of Missouri, the only real defense a driver has against the hearty legions of deer is to drive no faster than the posted speed limit and to wear a seatbelt. I was doing both and walked away unhurt. I was thankful for all the concerned passersby and the State Trooper who handled the accident. It was a testament to the type of community we live in here in Johnson County.