NORTH PLAINS, Ore – The driver of a pickup truck hit a herd of elk Thursday morning near North Plains on U.S. 26.

The driver was eastbound approaching North Plains, when he hit the elk. They either died on impact or had to be euthanized.

Oregon State Police say 13 elk were hit by at least one, possibly more cars. Six died on impact and six had to be put down, as their injuries were too severe. The 13th one survived.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office tweeted a photo of the vehicle, showing the entire front mangled from the impact. The driver is ok, according to Deputy Shannon Wilde.

Crews used using large equipment and chains to lift the dead elk.

Eleven elk died or had to be euthanized after struck by a pickup Jan. 4, 2018 on U.S. 26 near North Plains. (KGW Rachael Rafanelli)
Eleven elk died or had to be euthanized after struck by a pickup Jan. 4, 2018 on U.S. 26 near North Plains. (KGW Rachael Rafanelli)

Deputy Wilde said the driver was very lucky, and if he were in a smaller car, this could of been a very different story.

"It sounds like it was very sudden," Wilde said. "I don't know if the elk were standing in the roadway, or if they were migrating across the road, but again, we did get several calls on it, so it's amazing, too, that only one car was involved, because it sounds like other people witnessed it or were in the area when the crash happened."

The road was re-opened around 6:30 a.m.

Deputy Wilde also said Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife helped at the scene.

She says if any of the animals are able to be salvaged, OSP has a program where that elk meat can be processed, and donated to families in need.

OSP says three of the elk will be taken to Astoria, two elk will be taken to Tillamook for distribution, and the remaining elk will be distributed locally.

People who live in the area say it's a miracle the driver was not injured.

They say the herd is well known in the area. Mitch Kolodziejczak, who hunts and lives nearby, said there are about 80 elk in the herd. Typically they stay on the north side of Highway 26, but he said this year they started migrating to the other side of the highway.

“I was kind of worried about it I knew eventually they were going to try to get across and something was going to happen,” said Kolodziejczak.

His wife, AJ Sweedler said the elk have been wandering around on the southern side of the highway for weeks, eating plants and crops on land maintained by farmers. She wishes state wildlife officials would have done something to move the elk back to where they typically graze.

“They could have called some experts to say OK how do we herd them over the freeway? How do we spare them so that both humans and animals are not getting injured or dead,” said Sweedler.

She said it's a miracle the driver walked away from the crash without any injuries.

“Thank goodness, but it could have been a family in a minivan, it could have been really disastrous,” Sweedler said.

Rick Swart, a spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said shutting down the highway to get the elk to cross may not be a good option. He said elk will go where they want to go. Swart also said ODFW staff are talking to land owners about what to do in the immediate future when it comes to elk grazing on their farmland.

He said the area where the crash happened isn't known for crashes involving elk.

Grant McOmie, who produces segments for KGW News, is also familiar with the area. He lives and hunts nearby. McOmie said the ample amount of food as well as hunting restrictions due to homes have helped the elk herd grow. Like Kolodziejczak, he has also noticed the herd's growth.

“What's most unusual is how fast this particular herd of elk has grown in the last decade. I can remember counting them on one hand or two hands, and now I've seen upwards of 70 or 80 of these elk,” said McOmie.

Auto body shops in the area regularly fix cars with damage from elk. Zach Pierson, owner of Hillsboro Body & Paint, said last year his shop fixed 10-12 cars that were damaged from running into elk.

He said often, even if the body of the car seems OK, it's a good idea to get the car checked out.

Swart said typically elk are generally more active in the early morning hours or at night, so drivers should be more cautious during those times.

According to Oregon Department of Transportation data from 2015, there were 1,364 accidents involving wildlife.