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Advocates push for a safe fencing ordinance in Austin

One Austin man's mission comes after discovering a deer impaled on a spiked top fence, but it goes back further for a mother who lost her son in 2018.

AUSTIN, Texas — Wrought iron fences with spiked tops can be described by some as "dangerous" and "deadly," and one Austin man doesn't think they should be used after he found a deer impaled on one. 

Alex, an Austin resident, was driving on Rollingwood Drive when he saw a deer impaled on a wrought iron fence.

"It looked to me like, you know, because of the thrashing and everything, that he had suffered. Therefore, he probably tried to get himself loose and free. And then he slowly died ... I was kind of upset about it," Alex said.

Alex wants community members to know just how dangerous these kinds of fences are.

"I don't know what more purpose a fence like this versus having a fence that's just flat ... It's just ridiculous," Alex said. 

The KVUE Defenders learned that the City of Austin is looking into a proposed safe fencing ordinance. This comes after Nov. 2021, when the city council mandated the city manager to look into:

  • Requiring flat top styles on new fences of all lengths
  • Applying flat top fence requirements to all new fences six feet or lower
  • Applying flat top fence requirements to substantial fence repairs or remodeling 50% or more of an existing fence 

That resolution recognizes some spiked fence styles "can pose significant risk of harm to humans and animals, and even cause loss of life."

Julie Damian knows this risk far too well. Investigative reporter Jenni Lee spoke with Damian, who started her fight for safe fencing four years ago after her toddler got his neck stuck in between the spikes and died. 

"When somebody says, 'Your child's dead,' your world stops," Damian said.

Damian's world stopped in March 2018, when her 2-year-old son, Kade, got trapped in between posts and died of asphyxiation. She first told KVUE about the tragedy in 2018.

"My husband found him on the fence and his neck was caught in between the rails," Damian explained. "At the top, [there are] those bars that stick up and it's a low fence, about four feet and it's got those horizontal bars, a low one, and a top one. [Kade] apparently pulled himself up using the bottom rungs to step on and then tried to pull up and over and, when he did, he got stuck," 

Since then, Damian has been on a mission to raise awareness about the dangers of spiked fences. In doing so, she started KadesKrusaders.org, a site where you can find how to make spiked fencing safe without hiring an expert or spending a lot of money.

Damian is now partnering with the City of Austin to help pass the ordinance because she believes it affects more than just her family, which has grown to include 19-month-old Kase and her family dog.

"It's not just that a deer got hung up on the fence, but it's happening over and over again, and that if your kid is playing around a fence, it very well could be them," Damian said. "[There are] kids that have fallen out of a tree and been impaled, and there are adults that are working on a roof and they've fallen off the fence and been impaled on the fence."

The KVUE Defenders also contacted the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, which operates the property where the deer impaled itself on the spiked top fencing. A manager said she planned to meet a contractor to come up with a mitigation plan so something like this doesn't happen again. 

The City of Austin plans to ask for a second round of community feedback sometime this fall before sending a final draft of the proposed safe fencing ordinance to the city council next year.

The City of Georgetown, where two-year-old Kade Damian died, does not currently have a safe fencing ordinance.  

In an email, a city spokesperson wrote:

"The City of Georgetown Unified Development Code includes rules for fencing for new development. Currently, those rules do not address or prohibit spikes or bars that extend above the top rail on fences."

"There is an annual process to consider amendments to the development code, and we are not aware that the UDC Committee has made recommendations on this issue in the past. The next UDC Committee meeting has not yet been scheduled."

Alternatively to the City of Georgetown, the City of Lakeway enacted a safe fencing ordinance in 2019.

The KVUE Defenders also reached out to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to check the number of complaints the department may have received about spiked-top fencing and deer. At the time of publication, we have not heard back.

In a Facebook post, Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division wrote, "the UWP has, unfortunately, had to euthanize approximately 200 deer in the metro Atlanta area due to fence-related injuries."

The post also has a public service announcement about the dangers of spiked-top fencing.

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