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Deer deaths, shooting of fawn spur call for lower speed limits in East Lake

Signs warning motorists to be on the lookout for deer have not done enough to protect the animals, some activists say.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Signs warning motorists to be on the lookout for deer have not done enough to protect the animals, some activists say.

EAST LAKE — Rita Smekal remembers seeing the fawn, dazed and wobbly after being struck by a car, sit up in the grass near East Lake Drive and Boot Ranch Boulevard.

Smekal, a 63-year-old East Lake resident, pulled over and fought tears. Deep scratches streaked the young doe's front legs. Desperate to get help for the animal, Smekal dialed the numbers of four animal rescue groups, but no one was available just after 8 p.m. Sunday.

So she called an emergency veterinarian and pledged to foot the bill for the fawn's treatment. Then a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy arrived, she said, and stopped her.

Distraught, Smekal climbed back into her car and circled the block. She called her friend, Ronda Musca, a member of the Clearwater Audubon Society.

"Go back, Rita," Musca told her. "Don't let them shoot the deer."

But when Smekal returned, only a streak of blood remained on the pavement at a school bus stop.

The sheriff's deputy reported seeing an injured deer in the middle of East Lake Road on Sunday around 8 p.m. The deer, according to the deputy's report, seemed to be dying. The deputy called a freelance trapper, who, he wrote, "humanely put the animal out of its misery."

During mating season, which runs from October to January, deer bound across major roads in East Lake, often causing wrecks, despite the digital signs placed in the area instructing drivers to slow down. Dozens of deer die each year. Six have died just since Friday.

Musca and another Audubon member, Barbara Walker, are upset and are calling for action.

"We can't keep hitting these deer," Musca said Tuesday. "We can't have officers shooting deer on the side of the road with cars driving by. We can't have blood and brains on our school bus stops."

Musca and Walker want speed limits lowered on East Lake roadways. Musca plans to meet with the Pinellas County Transportation Department on Thursday.

Walker wrote a letter Monday to county officials, including County Commissioner Susan Latvala and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

"We don't need the wild west out on East Lake Road, with the sheriff's out there having to pull out their GUN and SHOOT!" her letter stated. "Last night a fawn was hit and possibly only stunned. A lady had a vet lined up to look at the deer and euthanize it if necessary, but as far as I know she was told she would be arrested if she took the deer. Baby deer brains splattered the road from the gunshot."

Ideally, Musca and Walker would like to see speeds in the area reduced by 10 miles per hour and a new traffic light added at Crescent Oaks Boulevard to slow down traffic and make the area safer for deer and motorists.

Walker, also a member of the Council of North County Neighborhoods, said her organization will brainstorm ways to raise awareness and spark change at a meeting in January.

"We live in an area with nature reserves, schools, libraries, and there's always a high volume of people on the road," Walker said. "We've got to adapt."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Deer deaths, shooting of fawn spur call for lower speed limits in East Lake 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 7:57pm]
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