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Deer processor closes abruptly, leaves big mess

400 decaying carcasses, stack of spoiled hides litter Hays site

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A red and white hand-lettered sign reading "Welcome Hunters" still hung outside the concrete block building in Hays yesterday where 400 deer carcasses lay rotting, after a seasonal deer processor abandoned the business.

More than 100 of the dead deer could be seen staring glassy-eyed from the back of an open rental truck parked in front of the building at 271 Baldwin Road. A like number were stuffed so tightly into a trailer beside the building that heads and legs protruded from under the door. Other deer heads, hooves and assorted trimmings filled two dozen 55-gallon drums.

In the building's basement, 50 carcasses were stacked neatly along the walls on a linoleum floor smeared and slick with frozen blood. A haystack-sized pile of deer hides, unsalted, spoiled and worthless, filled a corner.

Even in yesterday's cold, the smell of rotting deer hit like a punch.

Dave Zazac, an Allegheny County Health Department spokesman, said Mike Logue, owner of the deer processing operation, has been ordered to clean up the building and grounds within 48 hours.

"We did find carcasses in varying stages of decay and we are really concerned about the public health issue in terms of attracting rats and raccoons," Zazac said.

By evening, Valley Proteins Inc. of Neville Island had hauled away all the 55-gallon drums, but all of the intact deer carcasses will have to be sent to landfills.

"We had a contract with the owner to haul away the scrap parts, but he wrote us a check that was less than good," said Jim Theiss, a procurement representative for Valley Proteins. "We would have been removing these three times a week. Now they'll have to landfill the unprocessed carcasses because the hides and hair are too expensive for us to render."

"This is terrible," said Jay Bartrug, a hunter from South Park who brought in a deer last week and showed up outside the deer processing operation yesterday afternoon.

"This was a good deer processing business for 18 years, in West Mifflin and then here last year, but Logue destroyed it in one year. For the hunters, we can't go back out and get another deer. The season's over."

Logue became involved in the processing business last year and took over management of it this year.

Logue, who yesterday sold his deer processing equipment for $3,500, said he will repay any hunters that gave him full or partial payments when they dropped off their deer for butchering. "Anyone I owe a refund to will be issued one," Logue said in a phone interview. "I'm in the process of making good on this. I'm going to do it."

He charged $75 to butcher a buck, $65 for a doe, and an extra $15 for sausage casings. He said only 15 percent of the hunters made full or partial payments, but processing operation receipts show at least 150 hunters paid some sort of deposit when they dropped off their deer.

The processing operation opened Dec. 2, at the start of the deer hunting season, and employed 12 people, many of whom quit when they didn't get paid or were paid with checks that bounced.

The business has been shut down since at least last week, and was already running behind before that.

About 80 of the almost 500 hunters who brought in deer received butchered meat, but some of those hunters have complained to the Health Department about spoilage.

City police toured the site yesterday afternoon but said they were treating the situation as a civil matter in which individual hunters would have to pursue legal action on their own.

Aaron Wilner, a volunteer working with building owner Alan Gold to clean up the building, said hunters who have not received their deer meat from Logue and who have paid some or all of the processing charges can pick up receipts that could be useful in civil proceedings in front of the building between 5 and 8 p.m. today and tomorrow.

Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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