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Deer goes airborne, crashes through car

Saturday, August 04, 2001

By Jonathan D. Silver, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Years ago, when Butler Township Police Chief Gary Garman was working in Illinois, he heard about a deer jumping from a slope and dropping like a four-legged bomb through the top of a convertible that was driving by.

Up to the other day, Garman thought that was one of the wildest deer stories he'd ever run across.

That was until the accident Thursday night on state Route 68, when a deer, ricocheting off one car, flew through the interior of a second car -- a station wagon -- entering through the windshield and emerging from the rear. The drivers escaped serious injury.

"It takes the record for me," Garman said.

Gary Smith would agree. It was his car that originally struck the doe, sending it up and over his sport utility vehicle and into the path of Laura Lamison and her 1988 Chevrolet. He was uninjured.

"That was unreal," Smith said yesterday. "I just can't believe it happened."

The accident occurred about 9:15 p.m. as Smith headed east to a laundromat in Butler after finishing work at the grounds of the Butler County Farm Show, which opens tomorrow in Connoquenessing Township.

He had considered riding his motorcycle that night, but decided against it. It upsets him just thinking about what could have happened had he been driving on two wheels instead of four.

"I was just going down the road and all of a sudden there was a deer running, I mean all fours off the ground, and [she] was running right in front of me," said Smith, 52, of Connoquenessing Township. "It flew through the air and the next thing I heard was a big crash."

That jarring noise was the deer hitting Lamison's car near the intersection with South Benbrook Road.

Things happened so quickly that Lamison's reflexes were no match for the airborne animal coming at her.

"She probably had no time whatsoever," Smith guessed. "I never had any chance to swerve. I never had any chance to brake."

After the impact, Lamison, who was driving about 40 mph -- five miles under Route 68's speed limit -- veered off the road. Her car hit a mailbox, then collided with a utility pole.

Smith pulled over. The dark, two-lane road was littered with glass. He dragged the deer carcass off the westbond lane. Smith estimated that the doe was about 2 years old and perhaps 100 pounds.

Volunteer firefighters extricated Lamison, 32, of Karns City. She was flown to Allegheny General Hospital, where she was in fair condition last night. Her family declined comment.

Both Lamison and Smith were lucky. In a similar accident in June 1995, a Westmoreland County woman, who was seven months pregnant, died when a deer crashed through her windshield after bouncing off a vehicle going in the opposite direction.

Statewide, between 40,000 and 45,000 deer are killed each year by motor vehicles.

Last year, there were 2,564 crashes in which vehicles were severely damaged by deer, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Three people died in those accidents. Those figures compare to 2,408 serious crashes and two fatalities in 1999.

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