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SUV destroyed in blaze after deer collision on I-90

A vehicle colliding with a deer isn't exactly news in South Dakota, especially this time of year.

But for one driver early Wednesday, such an accident went from bad to worse. A 2012 Toyota Rav4 burst into flames after it struck a deer on Interstate 90.

"It was totally consumed," said Mitchell Fire Division Capt. Steve Nedved. "It appears it hit the fuel line and the fuel pump kept running, and it had a full tank of gas."

The driver, Lana Rothlisberger, 29, of Bossier City, La., suffered a slight burn from the air bag but escaped and was otherwise uninjured. She had rented the vehicle and was alone in it.

The captain said the only positive thing was that the driver wasn't hurt, even though the vehicle hit the deer with such an impact that the grille was pushed in nearly a foot. He said the seat belt and airbag worked perfectly to prevent an injury.

The crash was reported at 12:02 a.m. Wednesday. The vehicle was westbound at mile marker 334 when it hit the deer, which was killed.

Nedved said the highway was closed for about 15 minutes after the crash. When the fire was finally extinguished, the Rav4 was totaled and "was down to just metal," he said.

The crash was one of nine in the area Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Mitchell police log. In another incident, a Davison County deputy sheriff was sent out into the country to kill a deer that had apparently been struck by a vehicle.

While 10 deer-vehicle incidents in two days may seem high, South Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Robert Meyer said deer-vehicle collisions are a daily event this time of year.

"It's the fall," Meyer said. "With the harvest and the hunters, the deer are on the run."

The animals are also in rut, or in their breeding season, and are looking to stock up on food as winter approaches. All those reasons make them prone to run in front of a speeding vehicle.

The South Dakota Highway Patrol reports that vehicles have a one in 68 chance of colliding with a deer in the next year, with the vast majority happening in the last quarter of the year. South Dakota drivers rank second, behind only West Virginia, in the likelihood of a collision with a deer, according to a survey conducted by State Farm Insurance.

AAA South Dakota offers the following tips for drivers to avoid serious trouble:

• Buckle up and don't speed.

• Be observant. Look for deer-crossing signs indicating areas where deer frequently travel. Deer are creatures of habit and may often use the same path again.

• Reduce distractions in the vehicle and stay alert.

• Slow down and use a horn to scare the deer. Never flash a vehicle's lights. This can cause the deer to fixate on a vehicle.

• Deer travel in groups, so if one is crossing the road ahead, there are probably others.

• Never swerve. Instead, slow down and brake. Swerving can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle and strike another vehicle or object along the roadway.

• Do not rely on devices. There is no conclusive evidence that hood-mounted deer whistles and other such devices work.