Was the State of Arizona at fault in the elk/bike accident?


Tom Garrett 4 years, 3 months ago

The elk/motorcycle accident which occurred in Star Valley three years ago in 2009, like any other motor vehicle accident where someone is severely injured was a tragedy. The pain and suffering the cyclist went through are hard to read about and heartbreaking to imagine. All of us wish him well and hope his future is a happy one. That is the human side of this issue.

There is also a legal side, a question: Who--if anyone--was at fault?

When an accident occurs, the answer to that question most often lies in a second question: What was the proximate (direct or immediate) cause of the accident? Under what circumstances would the accident not have occurred?

Let's ask ourselves some simple, logical questions which will lead to the direct or immediate cause of the accident.

Does the State of Arizona assume responsibility for all accidents that occur on its highways?


When does the State become responsible for an accident which occurs on its highways?

When it is guilty of negligence.

What is a highway supposed to provide for drivers?

A highway provides a surface on which a vehicle can safely travel at the posted speed.

Is a highway always considered safe at the posted speed?


When does that change?

When it is nighttime, when the driving conditions change, or when there is a known danger in the area.

What responsibility does a driver have at night?

At night a driver must proceed at a speed at which he can stop his vehicle within the limits of what he can see ahead in his headlights.

Did this driver do that?

No. He admittedly ran straight into an 800 pound animal lying on the road because he was driving at a speed that exceeded the driving range of his headlights.

If the driver had been driving at a speed at which he could have stopped when he saw the animal, would the accident have taken place?


End of case. Judgment for the State.


Pat Randall 4 years, 3 months ago

Why weren't some of the people that were parked there shine lights on the elk laying in the road. Maybe the state isn't responsible but the $1200. apiece spent for collars to put on the elks to see how many times they cross the road would go a long way in fencing the highway. $1200 for the collars plus the wages for the Game and fish or whoever to catch the elk and put the collars on. This was done several years ago, Don't know if they are still doing it.

You can build all the crossings you want for wild animals but no one has told them to use them and stay off the highways.


Tom Garrett 4 years, 3 months ago

"Why weren't some of the people that were parked there shine lights on the elk laying in the road."

Someone did. Sat right in the middle of the road and took a chance doing it, with his emergency lights turned on.

Fencing the highway is a great idea, though very expensive, and only partly effective. The elk will go where they want and there is little or nothing we can do about it. It's a choice we have to make. How much do we want to pay in taxes? We can't do everything.

The one thing which makes it fairly "safe" at night around here is not overdriving your lights. In my 29 years of driving here I have had something like 50 chances to hit an elk or deer, and lots more if you throw in other animals. We all have, haven't we?

I slow down. If I can't stop within half the distance of my lights, I slow down some more. It's a choice. It must be hard on a Harley. That headlight doesn't cover much of the road. I suppose that's just one reason I don't ride one. It's a choice, isn't it? Riding at roadway speeds without any sort of protection around you, with lights that show very little, unable to safely do some things that car can do, and in among people who drive like they don't really understand the dangers that face a biker? Chancy.


Pat Randall 4 years, 3 months ago

No comment on the collars they put on the elk to see how many times they cross the highway?


Tom Garrett 4 years, 3 months ago

Nope. Don't know anything about them, so can't comment. Who paid for them (state or feds)? How many were there? Do they still use them or was it a one-time study? How much was saved by not building fences in the wrong places? Lots of other things I don't know.

Of course, that just adds to an ever-growing list. :-)


Kim Chittick 4 years, 3 months ago

Ok, here's my $.02...I think that the entire concept of collars on elk is absurd. I kind of like the idea of the elk crossing thing that they have set up east of Star Valley. I believe that along the highway is fenced to keep the elk from crossing until they get to the spot that is open, and there are motion detectors that detect movement in the area and then make the warning lights flash to warn drivers...is that correct? Although, I don't like the idea of the entire length of the highway being fenced. I figure that we, all of us, humans and wildlife co-exist on this Earth and we need to be cognizant of the fact that we are the ones with the brains and technology so should be more aware.

As for the whole bike/elk thing. I do not feel that the state should have had to pay one penny. And before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that my hubby and I do ride a motorcycle. I do not ride my own, for two reasons, primarily, because I am very short and cannot comfortably touch the ground when sitting on a bike. But, also because I LIKE riding behind my hubby, and have no need, nor desire to prove to the world that I am woman, hear me roar!!! That biker who hit the elk, should have significantly slowed down when he saw the lights of the cars flashing. He should have been practically stopped and moving his bike along with his feet on the ground. There was absolutely no rational reason for him to be going so fast that he could not slow up in time to avoid hitting the body of the elk.


Pat Randall 4 years, 3 months ago

Kim, As I understand it, the collars were put on only to count how many times the elk crossed the road. There were no lights flashing. It was not done to protect people. Protect the animals, fish, snakes and bugs, to h--- with the people. There are some rattlesnakes that are on the endangered list or were in the 70's. The elk are not native to this area. There were some imported after all the native elk died here many years ago because there were to many and they got some disease which killed them all. I drove highway 260 many times when my grandson was racing his Dwarf car in Showlow. Saw a lot of elk coming home at night after the races but never saw a light flashing. Elk don't always cross in the same place. They go where they want when they want. They really like the Payson Golf Course. They come right up to my son's back fence and hang thier heads over it. 14 of them jumped out in front of me one night about midnight just before you get to the club house at the golf course. Had to stop and let them cross. Thought I was dreaming. Had never seen an elk in Payson before.
I was raised here but it was a very small area where there were streets and houses. 40's and 50's. One school. Julia Randall where all 12 grades attended. It was before the Forest Service traded land so developers could make more money and keep people out of the forest. The high school was built on Forest Service land. Does that give you an idea of how small Payson was? Part of Swiss Village is also on traded land.


Tom Garrett 4 years, 3 months ago


"I believe that along the highway is fenced to keep the elk from crossing until they get to the spot that is open, and there are motion detectors that detect movement in the area and then make the warning lights flash to warn drivers...is that correct?'

I don't know, but it sounds like a sensible idea if that's what it's all about.

I also agree with you about the biker. I don't ride a bike for the same reason you don't. Too big for me. I knew a black kid named John in Japan who could have lifted a house so you could sweep under it. We called him--what else?--Big John.He'd stop his Harley and LIFT it so that he could slap the kick stand with a heel. If one of those things fell on me I'd be a greasy spot in the driveway. :-)

There wasn't quite enough info in the article to absolutely ascertain how fast the biker was going, but the impression was very clear that he didn't slow down when he saw the lights up ahead. Too bad.

In truth, I can easily see how someone could hit a moving elk coming at him from the side, even if he was being as careful as possible. But--gee!--a big old elk lying in the road? That would be hard to miss. I tell you, though, I was once driving by Renault 4CV (about the size of a VW bug), was stopped at a t-interscetion in the middle of sunny afternoon, and had a women drive right into my tail end. When I got out and walked back to her, she said, "I didn't see you?" Can you imagine that? I'd hate to have been someone in the crosswalk. Cost her $300 in repairs.

That reminds me of a time I was sitting an a stop light and a little old lady hit me in the rear. Not too hard, just enough to put a little dent in my brand new pickup. I got out and walked back. She rolled down the window and said, "I am so sorry." I remember how good it felt to say, "That's okay. It's just a little dent. How are you? You okay?" After I found out she was okay I hopped back in and drove off. It was a good moment. Got nothing to do with all this, but worth mentioning.

Thanks, Pat. I had no idea how small Payson was back when I first saw it. There wasn't much that I remember, just Main Street and Broadman's, but you never know about towns; their borders can stretch out all over the place.

I wonder. Does anyone remember when the forest service used to let you build a small cabin (one that looked like something that belonged in the woods) along the forest service roads? It was part of the program at one time, a way of "allowing America to enjoy America." Are any of those cabins still left anywhere?

As for elk, I see them crossing all the time. One place they really love is the crest of the hill coming south just before the roundabout. I've seen herds of 20 or 25 crossing there. Another place to explain them is near the 4-lane by the landfill. If no one is one that stretch of road to get annoyed, I always drive in the center lane; it gives you a little better chance to spot the elk before they get onto the road.


Tom Garrett 4 years, 3 months ago

"Saw a lot of elk coming home at night after the races but never saw a light flashing."

That gives me an idea, one that fits the modern era perfectly. Let's get big collars for all elk. We can equip them with motion detectors that detect a car coming. Then the collars can light up, flash in psychedelic colors, and a BIG horn could go off, one so loud it could be heard in a closed car at 200 yards.

There's be no more problems. Every time an elk got near a car its collar alarm would go off, giving the elk a heart attack. We'd be rid of the pesky things in a couple of months. :-)


Kim Chittick 4 years, 3 months ago

There is a place out on 260 to the east that was some kind of a test thing or something. Evidently the highway has fences along both sides which are meant to "guide" the elk (and other animals presumably) to a spot that is not fenced. There must be motion detectors somewhere in there that trigger flashing lights to warn approaching motorists that there is the possibility or likelihood of an animal approaching the highway. We have seen it in action several times.

As for elk in town, in the last year, twice I have seen quite large bull elk roaming right along the highway. The first time was up in the field on the north/east corner of Beeline, just west of the new fire department building. That poor guy had a good portion of his rack missing, looked lopsided. And just recently, perhaps in the last month, there was a large bull in the tree'd/grassy area between the planning/zoning building and Beeline.

They are truly magnificently gorgeous creatures and I love to watch them.

Short story...a few weeks ago, a very good friend of mine's adult daughter was driving her Lexus SUV on a highway in Idaho. She and a friend were coming home from shopping and dinner. They were in a long line of other vehicles. The woman was maintaining a good amount of distance between her and the car ahead, when all of a sudden, a full grown moose stepped out in front of her. Destroyed the vehicle, front end, hood, both side quarter panels, both front doors, and the windshield were crushed, and the roof was peeled back like a sardine can. By the Grace of God, both women walked away. The pictures were horrifying.

There is nothing that I have to do, and no place that I have to go that is so important that I cannot maintain a reasonable and prudent speed.


Tom Garrett 4 years, 3 months ago

"There is a place out on 260 ... We have seen it in action several times."

Sounds like a really good idea. Costly, but workable.

"As for elk in town..."

This is a really hard year for them. I'm not exaggerating in the least when I saw that my normally green back yard, and the fields behind it, didn't begin to blossom until July, when normally they are green with winter rye throughout much of the cold weather, and have fresh new grass as early as march.

"There is nothing that I have to do, and no place that I have to go that is so important that I cannot maintain a reasonable and prudent speed."

Which no doubt means you'll probably live long enough to get there. I feel the same way. One time that I speed up and pass someone is if he is all over the road and I think he might be the first car in a ten car pile-up. The other time is get around bongo brains who drive way below the limit and then speed up when they come to a pull-out so they don't have to let anyone go by them.

You know something? I think people who do that--and there are a lot of them that drive between Pine and Payson--are the prime cause of road rage in that strip of road. I don't know why people do it. I usually drive at about the same pace as everyone, but when Lolly is in the car her illness makes her afraid of anything over 40, so I may pull off a half dozen times on the way to Payson. Doesn't bother me. Where do I get the right to impede traffic? And what the hell? How much trouble is it to pull over for a minute or so?


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