Two white-tailed deer smashed through the window of a busy McDonald's on New York Avenue NE yesterday morning, setting off chaos in the restaurant and triggering a police hunt for one of the animals through nearby streets and vacant lots.
The young bucks with small antlers appeared out of nowhere, just as the two-story restaurant was about to stop serving from the breakfast menu at 10:30 a.m., authorities said. After the crash, witnesses said, customers came screaming out of the building at New York Avenue and First Street NE, and employees ran into a freezer for safety.
One of the deer escaped the restaurant; it was finally tranquilized and captured after 1 p.m. on Florida Avenue NE. Both of the animals were badly injured and were euthanized.
"Nobody around here has any idea how those deer showed up there," said Jim Monsma of the Washington Humane Society. "Florida and New York avenues? This is a first."
Monsma said that most intrusions of deer into urban areas of the District occur in late October and November, because it is their mating season and the beginning of deer hunting in Maryland. Though deer are mostly sighted near Rock Creek Park and other wooded areas, he said they've also been found on the Mall, at the White House and at Hains Point.
The two deer were not sighted yesterday until they smashed through the McDonald's window on a dead run, Monsma said. He theorized that they could have come into the area along the railroad tracks that run from Maryland to Union Station. An official with the city's Department of Health, however, said that a lot across the street from the McDonald's has ample weeds and water, so the deer might have been living there.
Richard Jones, 49, said he walked up to the restaurant just after the deer crashed in.
"I thought maybe somebody was robbing the joint," he said. Customers were running out of the building screaming, he said.
Police and witnesses said at least one of the deer leapt over the counter into the area where food is prepared and tried to escape through the drive-through window. Seeking shelter, employees ran inside the store's freezer or down into the basement, witnesses said.
Four women were taken to the hospital for scrapes and bruises they received in the melee, said Alan Etter of the D.C. fire department.
One of the deer, weakened by serious cuts from the window glass, stayed inside the restaurant, where it was tranquilized, authorities said. The other bounded out through the smashed window, ran across First Street just in front of the first-arriving D.C. police cruiser, and found its way through or over a tall fence into the vacant lot across the street.
Then, as ambulances, camera crews and more police arrived, the deer disappeared among the tall weeds and abandoned sheds on the lot. Eventually it reappeared, chased in circles by a car with animal control officers inside. At one point, an officer with a rifle that fires tranquilizer darts got out to stalk the deer.
A small crowd gathered to look through the fence -- despite a police officer's warning to beware of stray darts -- and trade theories on how the animals came to the neighborhood. Ronnie Williams, 49, remembered that the lot was once a wooded area.
"Then they decided they wanted to redevelop New York Avenue," Williams said. "Now the animals are coming out."
"You used to see other small animals around here, possums, rats," said Sandy Bell, standing with Williams. "Mostly rats."
The deer eventually found its way through the New York Avenue Metro station construction site and ran across Florida Avenue, dodging traffic. It was tranquilized in another small lot next to a Burger King and carried out in a blanket about 1:20 p.m.