HELENA — Two drivers were able to walk away from their vehicles after they hit six elk that were part of a herd trying to cross I-15 near Jefferson City early Friday.
Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Dave Gleich said the two vehicles — a 2002 GMC Envoy and a 2005 Chevy Tahoe — sustained significant front-end damage in the crash. Neither driver was injured.
“That’s the incredible part, actually, that no one was hurt,” Gleich said Monday. “It’s not unusual to see elk on the highway, and I’ve investigated four or five elk-vehicle crashes in a year, not to mention about a deer every day.
“But hitting six elk at one time is very unusual.”
The accident happened at about 7:15 a.m. as dawn was turning to daylight. The GMC was heading north on I-15 and the Chevy was going south; Gleich estimated that they were traveling close to the speed limit, which is 70 mph in that area.
“I’m not sure which hit the elk first, but I think the northbound vehicle hit two elk, causing the herd to run across the highway where the southbound vehicle struck four more,” Gleich said.
He estimated that about a dozen cow and calf elk were in the herd.
Five elk were killed on impact, and the sixth was injured badly enough that it wouldn’t have survived, so Gleich killed it.
The accident happened north of Jefferson City, with the elk trying to cross I-15 near the rest stop off the northbound lanes. Gleich said he usually sees the herd about a quarter-mile south of Jefferson City.
“But I slow down after it’s dark from the Jefferson City exit to the authorized turnaround, because I always see elk in that area,” Gleich said.
He commended the drivers for not trying to swerve to avoid the elk, noting that the maneuver can cause vehicles to roll and injure or kill occupants. Both vehicles had to be towed from the scene, but Gleich noted that it could have been much worse.
“Fortunately, they were both driving SUVs so there weren’t any injuries. That probably wouldn’t have been the case with a small passenger car,” Gleich said. “Typically, what happens with an animal that size is a driver hits the brakes, which drives down the front end of a vehicle. They hit the elk, which takes out its legs and shoves the full body into the windshield. With the SUVs, they’re tall enough so it just pushed them.”