By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
A Carbondale trustee, distressed by the recent handling of a dead deer along Highway 133 near the new Ross Montessori School, is calling for the town and the state to get together on how such situations will be handled in the future.
One outcome of the discussion may be a speed-limit reduction along the stretch of highway between the new school and Roaring Fork High School, which is located at the southern end of Carbondale.
Another outcome could be the designation of the stretch of road near the Montessori school as a “wildlife crossing zone,” in recognition of the fact that deer hang out during the winter months in the River Valley Ranch (RVR) subdivision and in the small patches of trees along the highway between Ross Montessori and the northern portion of RVR.
These deer frequently stray onto or across Highway 133 and occasionally are hit by passing cars, which at that point typically are traveling at or above the posted 40 miles-per-hour speed limit.
The dead deer in this instance, which was hit around at 7 or 7:30 p.m. the night of Feb. 4 by a vehicle about 200 yards south of the Montessori School’s entrance, was left there until the next day, Feb. 5, according to Trustee Frosty Merriott, who said on Monday that he was planning to raise the matter at this week’s Board of Trustees meeting to see if it could have been handled differently. (Editor’s note: The trustees now meet on Wednesday, after The Sopris Sun has gone to press).
Merriott, who lives in RVR, wrote in an e-mail made available to The Sopris Sun, that he was driving home on the evening of Feb. 4 when he saw a Carbondale police cruiser parked by the side of the highway with its emergency lights on.
Merriott said he saw police officer Michael Zimmerman standing by a downed deer, which was alive but unable to rise due to its injuries.
Merriott, who approached the officer, wrote that Zimmerman apparently was preparing to put the animal out of its misery with his police fire-arm, a .40 cal., semi-automatic weapon.
“I know John Groves (state wildlife officer for the Crystal River Valley) carries a small caliber for this reason, and I am wondering if at least a couple of our (police) vehicles should do the same,” Merriott wrote. “Less noisy, less messy, less traumatic to the animal, whose fresh meat can be used to feed the homeless.”
Explaining that he felt not using the deer meat would be wasteful, Merriott remarked, “We’ve all heard that the meat can be claimed, and given to a shelter” or otherwise used.
But Police Chief Gene Schilling, who confirmed that Zimmerman killed the deer and that the motorist who hit the animal called it in that night, said his understanding is that the use of a smaller-caliber pistol would not have necessarily meant the deer meat could be harvested and used as food.
“If we had a .22, versus a .40, if they shoot ’em in the head, it would make no difference,” Schilling said — the meat would be unusable either way.
Schilling said the department’s protocol for handling such situations is to call the public works department to pick up the carcass as soon as possible.
“It was handled normally, the way we handle these things,” Schilling said.
Public Works Director Larry Ballenger confirmed on Tuesday that a town employee picked up the carcass early on Feb. 5 and took it to a Dumpster.
Merriott, however, was not happy with the outcome, particularly that the deer carcass had not been removed earlier, which definitely meant the meat could not be used.
“So how do we make sure the meat can at least be used in the future?” Merriott asked in his e-mail. “Also, I wonder how the Montessori children walking to school felt seeing the blood and carnage. I wonder why the area is still posted 40 miles per hour in a school zone?”
He said he plans to raise the issue with the other trustees to see if there is any way the town can coordinate with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, perhaps by having a copy at the Carbondale Police Department listing the names of local hunters willing to collect elk and deer carcasses hit by vehicles.
At Ross Montessori, Randall Lavelle, the school’s communications director, said she had not been aware of the “carnage” Merriott referred to, and that she believed none of the school children had seen the carcass, either.
“And that’s something that would have traveled through the school quickly,” she said of a story concerning a dead deer nearby.
Lavelle said the school has no particular concerns about being so close to the highway, other than wondering, as did Merriott, why the speed limit in front of the school has not been dropped from 40 m.p.h., to the more typical school-zone speed of 15-20 m.p.h.
Another school employee, Lavelle said, has been monitoring state progress on the speed-limit issue, but that person was away from the school and could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Merriott, in an e-mail exchange with Schilling that was sent to The Sun, suggested that the stretch of highway adjacent to Ross Montessori could be designated as a school zone between, say, 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. as a school safety measure, and be designated simply as a wildlife crossing zone “the rest of the time.”
Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said on Tuesday that the issue has been raised at CDOT, and is being studied.
She said the agency is looking into different concepts, including making a school zone out of the entire stretch of highway from Hendrick Drive to the Roaring Fork High School road, with a speed limit of 20 m.p.h., or so.
Merriott has written to State Rep. Bob Rankin, who represents this area in the Denver Statehouse, asking him to see what the delay is at CDOT regarding the school-zone question, which has been under consideration for a year or more.
Published in The Sopris Sun on February 11, 2016.