Man injured trying to rescue turtle on Route 66

A man suffered injuries Sunday while trying to move a turtle on Route 66 near Claremore, Oklahoma.

The Tulsa World reported:

Phillip Smith, 79, of Claremore, stopped his vehicle around 9:45 a.m. on Oklahoma 66, less than 2 miles north of Claremore, according to an Oklahoma Highway Patrol report. Smith was attempting to “save a turtle,” troopers state in the report.
A 1999 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Jerry Frazier, 57, struck the parked Lexus. The parked Lexus then struck Smith, according to the report.

Smith was taken to a hospital in Tulsa for injuries to his chest, head and legs. Both drivers were ticketed.

In a follow-up report by the Wichita Eagle, wildlife officials said people should not try to move turtles off the road if the highway has no shoulder or if there’s a lot of traffic.

If conditions are safe, the department has three tips for moving turtles on the road: Turn on your hazard lights, grab the turtle by the middle part of the shell, and take the turtle to the side of the road in the direction that it was heading.

Drivers can expect to see more turtles crossing the roads in the spring and summer months. Marc Murrell with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism previously told The Wichita Eagle that this part of the year is prime turtle breeding season.

“It’s the same reason we see more deer in November,” Murrell said. “It’s turtle breeding season through April, May and June.”

Many Route 66 travelers are aware of turtles in the road because of the third chapter of John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” An online study guide summarizes it:

The chapter is mostly a description of the journey across the street, including all the obstacles that the turtle must face on his way across. He first must drag himself up the embankment; then, on the way across the street, he encounters two vehicles; the second vehicle intentionally hits him, remarkably spinning him to the far side of the street, where he picks himself up and keeps on walking. The turtle also carries along oat seeds, which he picked up before crossing the street and manages to deposit in the dirt after crossing.

The turtle serves as a metaphor for the displaced Joad family of Oklahoma and its constant struggle for survival.

(Image of a turtle on old Route 66 in Texas by Sylvain L. via Flickr)

8 thoughts on “Man injured trying to rescue turtle on Route 66

    1. What does the law say? Drive over the animal? Drive around the animal and let another vehicle – perhaps a motorbike – hit it and have an accident? Why did the other vehicle hit a stationary car? Was the driver not looking? On a mobile phone? Just careless? Looking on Google maps at OK-66 either side of Claremore, all I saw was a divided road with a hard shoulder – and no signs to say No Stopping. And very little traffic. If Smith stopped on the hard shoulder, how was he breaking the law? If he stopped in lane one or lane two, then that was stupid. Google showed a lot of potholes that could be more dangerous than a stationary car.

  1. There are numerous laws on the books in the USA regarding impediment of traffic, particularly in regards to highways. I would rather guess that Mr. Smith was standing in the roadway when his vehicle, then him, were struck by Mr. Frazier’s vehicle. And yes, Eric, for that you can be ticketed in the USA – even though you are legally parked on the side of the road and it would seem that you are the victim.

    I hate to say this but the potential consequences of trying to save something like a turtle in the middle of the road are seldom worth doing it. And it is up to the driver to avoid anything in the roadway – whether it be an animal or trash – or to decide to stop and attempt to move it from the roadway. Personally, I usually call the highway department or highway patrol. Both have personnel that are trained and who have special equipment to perform these type tasks.

  2. Thanks, Tonya. Here, in the UK, the police are somewhat more logical. In my 50 plus years of driving I have come across a number of dead foxes and badgers on the road, and if the bodies are causing a danger to other road users I have stopped and moved the bodies off the roadway. On one occasion I came on a police car that had stopped because there was a dead dog on the road. I took a large plastic bag from my work van, put the dead dog in it and presented it to the police to deal with. For some reason they did not want to get their hands dirty.

    As for drivers avoiding objects on the roadway, there have been countless accidents and deaths from drivers swerving to avoid animals, deaths of totally innocent road users. My policy is to brake hard to try to avoid an animal, but not primarily to swerve to avoid it. Doing the former in a van, I hit a deer one night in Scotland. Swerving at 50 mph was never in my mind.

    In the UK, it is the person in the vehicle that hits a parked vehicle who usually gets the ticket; drivers have a duty to be able to stop within the distance that they can see.

    When it comes to not hitting a parked car, I fail to ses the difference between a police car or highways car parked on the roadway and a private car.

    I would still like to know what law Mr Smith had allegedly broken.

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