Archive for Thursday, June 19, 2003

Publisher’s Notebook: Oh, the games they will play

June 19, 2003

I suppose it was inevitable.

Two trips a day. Five days a week, at least, for nearly 190 weeks. Whew!

Yes, it was inevitable that my car and I would meet up with a deer.

It was inevitable, and unfortunately unavoidable.

During those many, many trips to and from Lawrence -- some at dawn, others at dusk or in winter's darkness -- I'd only seen a handful of deer.

I'd heard they were out there. I'd seen the sheriff's reports. I'd talked with witnesses.

In fact, friends often told me to watch out for such-and-such place or, you know, Caroline, where the road dips or where that bad curve is or that spot just past that bridge.

Those friends saw deer all the time. They saw them every season, in all kinds of weather, at all times of day.

Not me.

In fact, I used to think the deer were hiding behind trees along the highway, watching me whiz by, waiting to play a game of Let's Scare the Driver. I used to imagine they all would jump out when I least expected it.

I could almost feel them watching me. OK, so call me paranoid.

As a girl who grew up in west-central Kansas, I learned early on that it was healthy to respect the weather. Now, I'm not saying I'm afraid of storms. Quite the contrary. It's nearly impossible for me to head to the basement when a storm's brewing. I need to see those clouds, feel the air. My dad and I used to hang out on the front porch -- or if the rain were light, the front yard -- if the weather turned nasty.

But I learned there's a time to head underground.

And I think, somehow, I didn't realize that it's also healthy to be ever-vigilant about watching for deer.

During rut, I carefully scanned the sides of the road during my trips in and out of Tonganoxie. And if I noticed an increase in the number of car-deer accident reports flowing off our fax machine at the office, I'd take special care.

I guess I just forgot that those deer were out there -- always out there -- waiting to play Let's Scare the Driver.

So on a recent early Sunday morning, as a doe skittered out of the trees and slipped like lightning into my path on U.S. Highway 24-40, I was shocked.

My mind flooded with the warnings of every law enforcement officer I've ever interviewed about car-deer accidents.

Don't brake. Don't swerve. Don't kill yourself. Go ahead and hit the animal.

They warned me, and through news stories, I warned our readers. I'd write that to brake or swerve was inviting trouble, big trouble.

I guess this is where I confess. I did brake -- a little -- that Sunday morning. But I didn't swerve.

And I think if that deer hadn't paused in the middle of my lane for just a micro-second, she would be romping through the fields of southern Leavenworth County, waiting to play Let's Scare the Driver with some other unwitting soul.

At least I think she paused.

Or maybe time just stood still. Maybe I just thought she paused, when in fact it was at that moment that I knew, I knew with all of my 31 years of driving experience that I was going to hit her.

Immediately after the accident, I pulled over and climbed out of my car to survey the damage. I'd grabbed my cell phone, but I couldn't remember three little numbers: 911. So I did what I guess lots of Tonganoxie folks do automatically: I called Mike Vestal, Tonganoxie police dispatcher. As I think back, I can't imagine why I called Mike, instead of 911. It's really not the right thing to do. But I guess I just wanted to hear a familiar voice.

I do appreciate all of the folks who stopped to ask if I were OK, if I needed anything as I stood along the east shoulder of the highway south of town, waiting for a sheriff's officer to arrive.

And it's odd. Since that Sunday morning when I was an unwilling player in Let's Scare the Driver, I've seen more deer than I had in all the previous 190 weeks.

Thankfully, none of them has been playing on the highway.

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