Ocean City Today

Unofficial greeter at Assateague hit, killed by motorist

By Brian Gilliland | Oct 12, 2017
Photo by: Submitted photo Jester

(Oct. 13, 2017) Since 2004, one of the first horses spotted after crossing the Verrazano Bridge onto Assateague Island was Jester, who favored the area near the causeway. His long-time role as an unofficial greeter, however,

ended around 8 p.m. Thursday, when he was struck and killed there by a motor vehicle.

The driver, identified only as a 70-year-old woman from Silver Springs, Maryland, has not been charged, but the investigation into the crash continues. The driver was not injured.

Since 1982, 31 horses have been killed on National Seashore roads, with more than half of the deaths occurring on the causeway near the bridge, according to a press release from the park.

“Any time a horse is killed in the park, the staff is naturally distressed,” Park Superintendent Debbie Darden said. “Some people here have known him since he was a foal.

After each incident, Darden said, the park staff will brainstorm new ideas and strategies on keeping the resident wildlife safe. But more than talk, she wants people to listen.

“We talk a lot, and ask people often to not feed the horses from their cars. It habituates them to the road,” she said.

Horses that are rewarded with food for venturing out onto roads are likely to continue to do so, and stand a greater chance of being injured or killed.

The more people that help spread that message, Darden said, the less likely the animals will get accustomed and attracted to the roads.

For drivers, the park offers three tips.

• Remain alert to horse movements along the roads, because horses may react in ways a driver might not expect. For example, a horse fly might bite an otherwise docile animal, or it could startle because it hears another horse whinny, causing the animal to bolt at random — including into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

• Not only is enticing horses to come over to a vehicle illegal, it also desensitizes horses to road dangers, making them more likely to be struck.

• Control the vehicle’s speed. The island is the horse’s home, and people are the visitors. When horses are walking along the side of the road, it may be necessary to drive slower than the speed limit.

Horses are offered no greater legal protection than other island wildlife, Chief Ranger Walt West said. Though there are only 89 horses left on the island after Jester’s loss, this accident is being considered a motor vehicle crash with property damage, he said.

Jester, 18, was often spotted with his companion mare, Dee’s Heart, 29.

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