Why did the turtle cross the road, cause a crash?

The turtle that meandered across one of South Jersey's busiest Shore routes, causing a traffic mishap, was likely an Eastern box turtle like this one.
The turtle that meandered across one of South Jersey's busiest Shore routes, causing a traffic mishap, was likely an Eastern box turtle like this one. (PAUL LEAKAN)
Posted: July 13, 2013

After just a few moments of trying to wriggle free from the arms of a police officer, the 15-pound turtle that caused a three-car crash surrendered and hid in its shell.

But the second that the officer set the turtle free, it fled, yes, fled, into the Atlantic County woods.

"He had been through a lot," Galloway Township Officer Steve Garrison said Thursday, explaining why the green turtle with yellow spots had picked up the pace. "As soon as he saw the woods, he took off and disappeared."

Before that, the turtle had strolled ever so slowly across Route 30, one of South Jersey's busiest Shore routes on a hot summer day.

Its Wednesday wanderlust caused a chain reaction that sent two Burlington County residents to the hospital, smashed into pieces a billboard promoting breast cancer awareness, and knocked down a utility pole.

And while the turtle was not charged, one motorist was ticketed for careless driving and could face an $85 fine and a two-point penalty against her license.

Miguel Higgins, who was driving a 2010 Infiniti westbound just before 5 p.m., recalled that traffic had slowed and that he had almost come to a halt when he was struck from behind, police said. Higgins, 73, of Willingboro, never saw the turtle.

He and his passenger, Ampai Louie, 64, of Eastampton, were treated for minor injuries at a nearby hospital.

Garrison, with the traffic investigation unit, said other motorists reported seeing the turtle amble across the road and several drivers' swerving and braking.

The speed limit on the four-lane White Horse Pike is 50 m.p.h., but the turtle was in no hurry. It was near the middle of the road when the crashes occurred.

Garrison said he did not know what type of turtle it was, but described it as "dark green, like a military green," with "yellowish spots" and about the size of a basketball.

It is likely an Eastern box turtle, which according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection website is "a terrestrial species" that can be six inches across. It matches the color description.

Another clue from the website is that these turtles usually "burrow beneath logs or rotting vegetation, but brief summer showers usually bring them out of hiding."

There has been no lack of brief summer showers.

Police said Dominique Flipping, 19, of Mays Landing, N.J., was traveling from 40 to 50 m.p.h. in her 2001 Mazda when she struck Higgins' vehicle and then swerved into the eastbound lane, hitting a Ford Expedition, police said.

After the impact, the Ford careered into a utility pole and then crashed through the billboard. Julio Pagan, 24, of Sewell, was the driver.

Flipping was cited for careless driving.

When it was all over, Garrison and the tow-truck driver looked under Higgins' crumpled car and saw the turtle, stuck on the axle between the front tires.

As soon as they gently freed it, the turtle began moving. "He was tough," Garrison said. "Everyone else got hurt, but he didn't."

Normally, deer cause the accidents on this wooded stretch of highway, said Garrison, who has been on the force a dozen years.

"All this," he said, "was over a turtle."


Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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