Ligonier Township Police said Wednesday that a high school junior who died Tuesday while driving to school on his 17th birthday with his younger brother lost control of his car after hitting a deer carcass.
Nicholas Richard Neiderhiser was behind the wheel with his brother, Tyler, a freshman, as a passenger when his car crashed along Route 711, about two miles north of the borough in the township, according to police. Tyler was seriously injured.
Police Chief Michael Matrunics said, based on evidence at the scene and witness reports, police believe Neiderhiser's northbound car struck a deer carcass in the road.
“We don't know how long the deer carcass was lying there, but it was in his lane of travel when he struck it with his right tire. After he struck it, it caused him to lose control,” Matrunics said. Neiderhiser's car glanced off a telephone pole, crossed both lanes of Route 711 and struck a tree head-on.
Matrunics said police also believe speed was a factor.
Neiderhiser, of Cook Township, was pronounced dead at the scene by coroner Ken Bacha's office. His younger brother was flown to Conemaugh Health System in Johnstown with serious injuries but is expected to recover, Matrunics said.
The accident occurred about 6:50 a.m. on Route 711 near the intersection with Barron Road. Both brothers were trapped in the wreckage.
“It's our understanding (Neiderhiser) had restored the car himself. ... Like many young teenagers his age ... we understand he loved working on his car. It's a real tragedy for the community,” Matrunics said.
Neiderhiser was not wearing a seat belt, according to the coroner's office and police. He died of multiple blunt force injuries to his head, neck and chest, according to the coroner's office.
The fatal crash occurred as agencies and insurance companies are issuing annual warnings about the increased chances of striking a deer during the fall season.
“It is certainly the season for drivers to be aware on the highways. Archery season began Saturday, and that means there's hunters in the woods kicking up the deer,” said PennDOT District 12 safety officer Jay Ofsanik.
According to the Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics published by PennDOT, the number of crashes involving deer increased by 400 between 2015 and 2016. PennDOT reported there were 4,018 such accidents in 2016 versus 3,618 tallied in 2015.
In 2016, 12 people were killed in crashes with deer in Pennsylvania, compared with six the year before. It was the fifth consecutive year the number of deer-related crashes increased in the state.
Also this week, State Farm Insurance issued its 15th annual deer claim study showing that Pennsylvania drivers have a one in 63 chance of a crash involving a deer, a 6.3 percent increase from 2016, according to the insurance company.
This year's study revealed that West Virginia drivers continue to lead the nation in the likelihood of having an insurance claim involving a deer. Montana drivers were second, and Pennsylvania drivers were third.
“The bottom line is between October through December ... Pennsylvania drivers should expect to see more deer moving because of hunting, deer mating season and then the late November-December antlered deer hunting season,” Ofsanik said.
“People have to be more aware. ... There are indications people have seen the dead deer where deer usually move. People should keep an eye out in those areas,” Ofsanik said.
Deer carcass, speed are factors in teen's fatal Ligonier Township crash