ABOVE: Spring and fall are when police see the most animal related collisions. One family shares their story with Carey Marsden.
The Ontario Provincial Police sees a steep spike in collisions with animals during the spring and fall seasons.
“Typically we see between 11,000 and 12,000 collisions per year across the province with vehicles and animals,” said OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt.
Deer, wild turkey, racoons, coyotes and bears are the most common animals involved in these accidents.
According to OPP statistics from 2014, the highest instances of animal related collisions are in northwestern Ontario at 27.9 per cent. Northeastern Ontario is second at 27.1 per cent and the southwest part of the province is third at 23 per cent.
Matt Duke and Nicki Galley from New Liskeard, Ontario were in a devastating accident in June of 2014. The couple were going for an early evening motorcycle ride and ice cream. Duke said he was only going about 90 kilometres per hour when he came over the crest of a hill and saw a large black bear coming through the brush.
“I had enough time to start to veer into the oncoming lane, luckily there was no one coming, and before we had any reaction time a mature 400-500 pound bear was in front of us and we hit him,” said Duke. “We went down like a ton of bricks.”
After the impact, Duke skidded down the road on his bike. Galley was thrown from the bike and hit a guardrail.
“I landed on my back then I flipped myself over onto my belly,” said Galley. “I realized then, I couldn’t move. My legs were broken and my arm was broken and I had excruciating pain in my pelvis area. I knew it was bad.”
Galley’s leg was amputated on impact, below the knee.
“It was a little bit of disassociation for a second. I got out of the ditch and I thought to myself, what just happened,” said Duke. “Then I saw the bear, a helmet, a leg and Nicki.”
Galley also suffered a crushed left hip, a broken right knee and ankle, fractured ribs and a broken arm. She said she also had a laceration on her stomach that went from her navel to her spine. An Ornge air ambulance took her to Sudbury where she was stabilized. She was then flown to St. Michael’s hospital.
“Medicine today is really amazing. They put me back together with nuts, bolts and plates. I have a prosthetic leg,” said Galley who is currently undergoing rehabilitation in Toronto.
Duke is a member of the Timiskaming Road Safety Coalition. He said bears on the roads have become a real nuisance since the spring bear hunt was cancelled by the Mike Harris government in 1999. It was reintroduced in some areas, including North Bay, for 2014 and 2015. But Duke said it is still an issue.
“It’s beyond a nuisance. It’s actually a high risk issue right now. Bears are coming out into the towns and seeking food and they’re certainly all over the road,” said Duke. “Ten days before the crash, I was out in the middle of the day on my bike and a bear ran in front of me. I was on my own and you can maneovre the bike differently and I was able to take evasive action.”
“People just need to be much more aware when they’re driving especially at dawn and dusk when we seem to see a lot more movement of animals.” said Sgt. Schmidt.
Galley said she is now more cautious on the road.
“I haven’t been driving yet. I’m definitely more nervous on the road. I scan and Matt scans the ditches as he’s driving as well.”
The O.P.P. said there are things motorists can do to limit damages or injuries as a result of wildlife collisions.
1. Watch for posted yellow wildlife signs and slow down
2. Scan the road ahead shoulder to shoulder and watch for any movement.
3. Sound your horn if you see an animal
4. Stop as safely as possible. If there is one animal, there is usually another one following right behind.
5. Use high beams when possible and watch for glowing eyes.
6. Never swerve or brake suddenly.