Oh deer, 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.
Five deer carcasses were discovered Nov. 19 behind a vacant commercial building near Frontage and Tower roads, just west of the Edens Expressway in the northern suburb, Northfield Police Chief William Lustig told the Better Government Association.
Not knowing who was responsible, police set up video surveillance in the form of an infrared camera trained on the site, Lustig said.
The camera didn’t yield anything and was removed after several days. But then, on Dec. 29, three more dead deer were discovered on the site, officials said.
Police kept a special eye on the property and on Feb. 2 spotted a highway maintainer for the Illinois Department of Transportation in the area, driving an orange IDOT pick-up truck.
Police approached the IDOT worker, named Charlie Otto, and discovered he had just dumped a dead dog that Otto removed from a local roadway, according to a Northfield police report obtained by the BGA under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Otto was released without charges after agreeing to retrieve the dog remains, police said. There was no evidence that he’d dumped the deer.
However, authorities notified IDOT, which launched its own investigation and concluded its workers likely were to blame for all the dumping in the area – in apparent violation of state law.
Now, an unknown number of IDOT employees face disciplinary action, said agency spokesman Guy Tridgell. On Friday, IDOT crews cleared the carcasses from the site and properly disposed of them, officials said.
"We’ve investigated the incident with respect to the deer and believe disciplinary action is warranted," Tridgell said. "We are sad and appalled to learn of this incident and are taking the necessary steps."
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 talk to the BGA.
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 either be incinerated or buried under at least six inches of soil.
The deer and dog were dumped in a brushy area that abuts a private building’s parking lot. Police discovered the dead deer after being notified by 61-year-old Northbrook resident Peter Clark, who said he came across the "fairly fresh and lumped-together" carcasses while walking his dogs Bailey and Milo the morning of Nov. 19.
Northfield Village Manager Stacy Sigman said the village doesn’t own the land, the reason it didn’t dispose of the deer carcasses.
The property where the dumping occurred is owned by Union Pacific and includes ComEd electrical towers, she said. On a recent weekday, fur, hooves and bones were still scattered amid the brush and grass – apparently after being savaged by wild animals.
Which brings up another concern about dumping dead animals near a residential area or where people walk dogs: carcasses attract coyotes, experts said.
"Coyotes will take advantage of that deer," says Stanley Gehrt, an associate professor of wildlife biology at Ohio State University who has studied coyotes in the Chicago area. "They’re territorial, too."
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 deer and other animals that had been killed on roads.
"The easiest thing for them to do is to take the animals and dump them," Anchor said. "It’s just people being lazy and disposing of them improperly."
It’s unclear how many dead animals are cleared away each year by the 350 or so IDOT highway maintainers in the Chicago area.
However, statewide there were 17,135 deer-vehicle accidents reported in 2010, the lowest total since 1999, according to IDOT.
Cook County had the most of any county throughout Illinois with 562 reported.
This story was written and reported by BGA Investigator Andrew Schroedter. He can be reached at (312) 821-9035 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.