STANTON, Mich. (WOOD) - Two Montcalm County Sheriff's deputies were hurt this week after they hit a group of deer with their patrol car. The deer aren't to blame for their injuries, though -- it was the equipment inside the car that did the damage.
The accident happened at about 5 a.m. Sunday -- about three hours before sunrise -- on M-66 just south of the intersection of Holland Lake Road. The deputies were heading northbound on M-66 just north of the village of Sheridan.
Looking at M-66 in the daylight, it seems it would be nearly impossible to miss a herd of deer crossing, but at night, it's a different story.
Neighbors told 24 Hour News 8 that deer often cross that stretch of M-66. One neighbor said at least four deer were hit in that same stretch within the past week.
"This was freak accident, is what we chalk this up as," said Montcalm County Undersheriff Mark T. Bellinger.
Bellinger said there were two deputies, Clayton Thomas and Charles Mahar, in the patrol car Sunday morning. He said that's something rare in Montcalm County.
"Our concept is putting out as many cars as we can in one-person units," said Bellinger. But on Sunday, staffing worked out so the two men were riding together.
Bellinger also pointed out the cars are a tight fit with all the equipment in them.
"It's hard enough to get one person in a patrol car," said Bellinger, while demonstrating by getting in the car himself. "Getting two [deputies] with all their equipment is sometimes challenging."
The deputy in the passenger seat was typing on the car's computer as the pair proceeding on their patrol when, Bellinger said, several deer ran out in front of the vehicle.
The car made contact and hit two deer.
"They were unable to avoid a collision and struck several of the deer," said Bellinger. "That deployed two airbags -- both the driver and the passenger."
The Montcalm County Sheriff's Department has seen hundreds of police car and deer accidents throughout the years, but this one was different.
Both air bags exploded. Bellinger said it's rare for both to deploy in a crash like this one.
He also said much of the force of the crash was absorbed into the "push bumper" -- the black bar in the front of the vehicle. He said that if that bar wasn't there, the damage would have been much worse.
Bellinger went on to explain that police vehicles are designed to be able to get into accidents and still function so they would still be able to respond to a call if needed.
Both deputies were injured in the crash. 24 Hour News 8 learned the driver suffered burns on his hand. When the passenger side air bag exploded, it pushed the car's computer into the other deputy's knee.
"An accident can happen in a split second, so that's the lesson we've learned," said Bellinger.
So why did it happen?
Bellinger said the problem came because the computer was in use and swiveled in front of the air bag while the car was moving. He said the department recommends it stays stowed in the center console when the vehicle is moving, especially when there are two deputies in a car.
He said from now on, deputies won't use the computer while the car is moving.
"Sometimes you can't predict what's going to happen when you get in an accident," said Bellinger. "What's going to happen, what's going to come undone or come loose, but we're glad that it's a minor injury and that everybody's OK."
One deputy has already returned to work. The other is expected to return to duty next week.
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