After 300 Iraq missions, soldier based in Fort Richardson is killed by moose

Man dies after his car hits animal on Seward Highway

Posted: Sunday, December 09, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Spc. Stephen Cavanaugh survived more than 300 missions in Iraq, but was killed when his car hit a moose months after his return to Alaska.

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The 24-year-old Fort Richardson soldier was in a coma when he was taken off life support Thursday.

When he returned to Fort Richardson in March, Cavanaugh had brain trauma from the many explosions around him in Iraq and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the soldier's father, also named Stephen Cavanaugh.

The younger Cavanaugh, who deployed to Iraq with the 98th Maintenance Company, was still trying to heal when his car struck the moose Sunday night on the Seward Highway in South Anchorage.

That stretch of the highway isn't well-lit, and seeing something alongside the roadway can be difficult, said police Lt. Nancy Reeder.

"There was a moose - a mom and a calf - that ran out in front of him," Reeder said. "It's one of those things that happens in Alaska. A moose runs out in the dark and there's nothing you can do."

Reeder said the impact flung the moose on top of Cavanaugh's Camaro convertible, crushing him. The moose died and its calf ran off.

Cavanaugh was rushed to a local hospital in critical condition.

The soldier's family was notified and caught a flight from Atlanta.

As time passed, Cavanaugh's condition wasn't improving, his father said. Cavanaugh - known as Max to family members - never woke up and doctors said he never would, according to his father.

Cavanaugh's family decided that taking him off life support and donating his organs would be the right thing to do, and what he would have wanted, his father said. Cavanaugh died at 2:17 p.m. Thursday.

He joined the Army in June 2004 and deployed to Iraq in March 2006, Army officials said. Cavanaugh was stationed outside of Baghdad, where he staffed a .50-caliber machine gun on a convoy escort, his father said.

His family is planning a funeral Mass in Atlanta for Dec. 15. A memorial ceremony also is being arranged.

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