Car vs. animal accidents high

Moffat County drivers more likely to hit a deer than be involved in an alcohol-related wreck

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By Jeremy Browning

Daily Press writer

Alcohol-related accidents occur less frequently in Moffat County than anywhere in the state, but incidents of animal-related wrecks are way above the state average, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

Capt. Gary Torgerson, who leads the CSP's Troop 4B, headquartered in Craig, says accidents caused by alcohol account for 2.9 percent of all accidents reported in the troop's five-county jurisdiction.

The troop patrols Moffat Routt, Rio Blanco, Grand and Jackson counties. Geographically, it's the largest jurisdiction of any troop in the state, responsible for 256 miles of U.S. Highway 40.

Accidents in which alcohol was a contributing factor made up only 2.5 percent of all accidents in Moffat County in 2003. In 2002, that percentage was 1.9. The state average in 2003 was 6.4 percent. Six of the alcohol-related accidents caused injury. One was fatal.

Routt County had a slightly higher percentage of alcohol-caused crashes, but was still less than half the state average at 3.1 percent.

"That says a lot about our people," Torgerson said. "When you start getting into the metro areas, you see 12 to 18 percent alcohol-caused crashes."

Perhaps people drink and stay in town, Torgerson said. Maybe it's a city thing, he wondered.

The Craig Police Department didn't have a breakdown of accidents and their causes. But Capt. Jerry DeLong, who supervises the officers on patrol, said drunken driving is not a major problem inside the city limits.

"I think the citizens of Craig have taken more responsibility and they're using designated drivers," DeLong said. "If people feel they've had too much to drink, they're not driving."

People are more aware of the financial and other costs associated with drunken driving, DeLong said.

The low incidence of drunken driving doesn't mean Troop 4B is sitting around waiting for doughnut breaks though.

"We've been getting hammered with (animal-caused) accidents," Torgerson said. "Those animals are making a lot of fenders bent."

Animals caused 67 percent of the crashes the state patrol investigated in Moffat County in 2003 -- the highest rate in the state. The troop worked 437 accidents in 2003, and 293 times, animals had played a causal role.

The state average for animal-caused accidents was only 12 percent in 2003.

When Torgerson came to Craig in 1999, he said he was shocked at the number of accidents involving animals.

"That's the biggest thing I noticed was the animal-caused accidents. It's just overwhelming," Torgerson said.

Torgerson took the post as an 18-year veteran of a busy beat in metro Denver. Troopers in metro areas often spend their entire shift processing one accident after another and taking DUI suspects to jail.

In northwest Colorado, troopers have a lot more time to focus on preventing accidents, rather than just responding to them.

"We're lucky to live in the community we live in," Torgerson said. "It's a lot calmer and a lot less dangerous. But you still have to watch out for those fur-bearing animals."

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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