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Moose, truck collision teaches driver important safety lessons   

John Pennell
Fort Richardson PAO

June 29 was supposed to be a fun, relaxing day for Herschel Deaton and his children.

Deaton had just returned from being TDY and planned to take his 16-year-old daughter, Tabitha, and 13-year-old son, Nikolaas, to the air show at Elmendorf Air Force Base. His wife, Fay, decided to stay home.

Herschel Deaton's 2004 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck shows the aftereffects of a collision with a bull moose on the Glenn Highway June 29.The three piled into his 2004 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck that morning and headed south on the Glenn Highway from Eagle River. Deaton drove, his daughter sat in the front passenger seat, and his son sat behind her.

They crossed the bridge over Eagle River and headed up the incline where the highway transitions from two to three lanes, said Deaton, a Fort Richardson civilian chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear programs technician contractor with Concurrent Technologies Corporation. They were traveling in the middle lane when a bull moose lumbered into traffic from the wooded area on the left. For being an estimated three years old and roughly 1,500 pounds, Deaton said it moved deceptively fast.

“I didn’t have a chance at all to hit my brakes,” he said. “I basically hit him going 65 miles an hour. I didn’t have any time to react.”

The moose’s body hit the driver’s side of the truck; its head and antlers crushing the windshield. Glass showered Deaton and his daughter, but the windshield held. The body rolled down the side of the truck, ripping off the driver’s mirror and leaving behind a trail of crushed metal and bits of hair.

“The lady who was about five car lengths back of us in the fast (left) lane said the moose flew 200 feet in the air – over top of her car – into the ditch,” Deaton said. “She said it was the most spectacular thing she’d ever seen in her life.”

Deaton managed to slow his truck without any further damage.

“At that point, I was in the middle of the road, in the middle lane, and I just didn’t want to get hit (by following traffic),” he said. “I looked in the right rear-view mirror, which was still attached to my truck, and managed to pull over to the side of the road.

“My daughter and my son were kind of in shock, and they were freaking out,” he continued. “I told them to call 911, so both of them called 911 at the same time. That was a good thing, though, because the dispatcher calmed both of them down.”

Surveying the damage, he said he realized they were lucky to have avoided serious injury.

“We were all wearing our seat belts, which was great,” he said. “If not, my daughter could have probably ended up through the windshield or into the windshield because my airbags didn’t deploy because the moose hit higher than my bumper. I was very lucky that day.

“Divine intervention, I definitely believe in,” Deaton said. “I think it was a divine intervention. So, I’m a very lucky man.”

He said the collision taught him another safety lesson.

“The airbags didn’t deploy, which the cops told me was a good thing because I was driving with my hand at (the) 12 o’clock (position on the steering wheel),” he said.

The officer told him the force of the airbag deploying would have probably broken his wrist and slammed his hand back into his face, breaking his nose. Deaton said he learned a better position for his hands would have been at 3 and 9 o’clock on the wheel.

Deaton and his daughter walked away with only minor cuts from flying glass. His son was uninjured. He said the collision changed his mind about trading in the large truck for a smaller, fuel-efficient car.

“I was getting ready to get rid of my Hemi because it’s a gas guzzler,” he said. He said he felt if he was in a smaller car when he hit the moose the outcome would have been much different.

“It would have hit that car and shredded the roof, and it would have probably hurt me and my kids pretty bad,” he explained. “So I’m going to stick with trucks. I think in Alaska you have to have something big and heavy duty, especially along the highways because you never know when a bear or moose is going to jump out in front of you.

“I’ve lived here for seven years, and I never, ever thought I would ever hit a moose,” Deaton said. “But you never do until it happens to you, so just be careful out there.”