“10-4,” they say back and forth, acknowledging the instructions from Kenny Sheppard, a highway technician with the Indiana Department of Transportation. He’s driving a pickup truck south on Ind. 49 to their first stop of several in the Chesterton vicinity. Classic rock plays on the radio.
Sheppard picks up the speaker for the radio and tells Mark Scheffer to wait behind him on the shoulder. He’s driving a large truck with a lightboard trailing behind.
Sheppard finally stops the pickup. “There it is,” he says.
“Yummy,” Rusty Lee says from the backseat. “Let’s do lunch.”
The two exit the pickup and go down into the ditch separating the both sides of the highway. They get to work on transporting a decomposing deer into the bed of the pickup.
The crew was sent out on a “spot litter,” a work assignment by INDOT to collect unsightly items off the highway, including roadkill.
The fall weather triggers the beginning of mating season, or the rut. It’s a high time for many moving deer to accidentally end up dead on or to the side of a road.
When a deer or any other animal becomes a roadkill victim, a crew must come out and dispose of the decomposing carcass. An INDOT crew will come for ones on state or U.S. highways, but local town public works or animal control divisions collect those on their own streets.
The key concern is safety, according to Kurt Farrell, the foreman at the INDOT unit in Chesterton.
“They’re in the road so their size is a safety issue for motorists when they hit them and after they’ve been on the road,” Farrell said.
Thus, it’s an operation they like to quickly complete. Farrell receives notifications when members of the public call in a complaint, either to police or INDOT, and then sends out a crew as soon as possible. Those picked up during spot litter operations are part of the scheduled routine that day.
Dead animals decompose fast, so quicker removal makes the job less difficult for several reasons.
“The faster you get them, the better because they (other animals) start eating them,” says Scott Rediger, Crown Point Public Works director.
The carcasses can prove to be a disgusting and gruesome sight.
“I’ve seen humans that are dead, so that doesn’t bother me,” said Jim Blaylock, Crown Point street superintendent, who’s a former Marine. “I’ve put on a mask before because it’s stunk so bad. It can be a rank, vile smell.”
The encounter of animals and vehicles is a side effect with the construction of nearly 4 million miles of public roads across the U.S., according to the Federal Highway Administration. However, about 200 motorists are killed and thousands injured through these collisions, according to the Wildlife Society.
“It’s our job, we do it, we get rid of it, and we move on,” Blaylock said. “It’s either them or us. I think there’s still plenty of grazing area for people and animals to get along and there’s a lot of areas that are considered wetlands and habitat areas where we don’t allow developed areas.”
Aside from the deer mating season, a spike in roadkill likely will happen in the spring, as well as daily during the morning or evening when rush hour traffic isn’t the only thing on the move, according to Farrell.
“Our roads are being traveled more than ever before,” Farrell said. “It’s unfortunate the animals have to pay the price.”
The carcasses often are taken to an incinerator, such as the one at the Chesterton INDOT unit. Sheppard, Lee and the rest of the crew will return, back the pickup truck to the round, tubelike device, and scoop them in.
Lee cranks the incinerator door closed. It starts up, smoke flowing out the top. It’s the final step in the job.
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