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Bucking the law? State workers disciplined for dumping road kill

Somebody’s been dumping animal carcasses private property Northfield – officials now suspect culprits are government workers whose job includes clearing

Somebody’s been dumping animal carcasses on private property in Northfield – and officials now suspect the culprits are government workers whose job includes clearing “road kill” from public thoroughfares. | BGA photo

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Updated: March 24, 2012 9:00AM

State transportation officials say they are “sad and appalled” by the actions of some of their workers who face disciplinary action for dumping animal carcasses on private property in the northern suburbs.

The workers responsible for clearing “road kill” from the highways left several dead deer and a dog in a brushy area behind a vacant building west of the Edens Expy. in Northfield, officials told Sun-Times Media and the Better Government Association.

Last week, months after the dumping was discovered, Illinois Department of Transportation crews cleared the carcasses from the site and properly disposed of them — and apologized to Northfield residents. “We’ve investigated the incident with respect to the deer and believe disciplinary action is warranted,” agency spokesman Guy Tridgell said. “We are sad and appalled to learn of this incident and are taking the necessary steps.”

Spokesman Mike Claffey said the employees’ “conduct was unacceptable. . . . We apologize to the public in Northfield.”

Northfield Police Chief William Lustig, whose department probed the dumping for months, welcomed the state’s action. “We are pleased that the Illinois Department of Transportation has investigated the dumping of dead animal carcasses in our village and has issued assurances that the matter will not be repeated,” he said in a prepared statement. “At the same time, we are troubled that personnel working . . . for the department decided that Northfield was a suitable dumping ground.”

Police found the dead deer after being notified by Northbrook resident Peter Clark, 61, who came across the “fairly fresh and lumped-together” carcasses while walking his dogs on Nov. 19.

The carcasses of five deer were left behind a building at 820 Frontage Road, near Tower Road, between the building’s parking lot and the abandoned tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the land. Police set up an infrared camera at the site, but it didn’t yield anything and was removed after several days, Lustig said. On Dec. 29, three more dead deer were found there, officials said.

On Feb. 2, Deputy Police Chief Claude Casaletto saw a truck leaving the property. He stopped the truck, which IDOT worker Charlie Otto was driving, and saw fresh blood in the bed of the pickup truck. Casaletto learned the driver had left a dead dog at the property.

Lustig said police didn’t issue a citation or pursue charges against the driver “because he had agreed to remove the dog carcass.” There was no evidence that he had dumped the deer.

Authorities notified IDOT, which launched an investigation and concluded its workers likely were to blame for all the dumping in the area, in apparent violation of state law. Tridgell was unable to say how many IDOT workers would be disciplined or what punishments would be meted out.

Otto, who is paid $73,344 a year, declined to comment.

In Illinois, improperly disposing of a dead animal is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500.

Tridgell said IDOT crews typically bury dead animals on state property, including in grassy strips along highways, in compliance with an Illinois law requiring carcasses to be incinerated or buried under at least six inches of soil. Carcasses above ground can attract coyotes or other wild animals, posing a danger to residents in the area, said Stanley Gehrt, an associate professor of wildlife biology at Ohio State University who has studied coyotes in the Chicago area. “Coyotes will take advantage of that deer,” Gehrt said.

On a recent weekday, fur, hooves and bones were scattered amid the brush and grass at the Northfield site.

Some officials think the problem is more widespread. Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, said he has encountered numerous examples of local and state workers illegally dumping animal carcasses. “The easiest thing for them to do is to take the animals and dump them,” he said. “It’s just people being lazy and disposing of them improperly.”

There were 17,135 deer-vehicle accidents reported statewide in 2010, the lowest total since 1999, according to IDOT. Cook County had the most of any Illinois county — 562 crashes.

It’s unclear how many dead animals are cleared away each year by the 350 or so IDOT highway maintainers in the Chicago area.

Andrew Schroedter is with the Better Government Association. Kimberly Fornek is a Pioneer Press reporter.

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