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Bear flees, fate unknown, after being hit by car in Tuolumne County

A bear managed to flee the scene after being hit by a Toyota Prius on Tuesday in Tuolumne County, according to the Sonora-area office of the California Highway Patrol.

The incident happened on Highway 49 just south of the Stevenot Bridge, which runs across New Melones Lake between Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

It happened on the heels of a mountain lion walking into a Sonora-area home Sunday evening. And it came on the third day of Watch Out for Wildlife Week, an effort by Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to make motorists mindful of animals on roads.

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The bear — one of the biggest he’s ever seen, driver Damian Riley of Columbia told the CHP — lumbered onto the roadway about 5:55 a.m., nearly a half hour before dawn. Though his car has strong headlights, Riley said he had no time to react beyond hitting the brakes, according to CHP officer Steven Machado. Riley, 42, and a passenger suffered minor injuries.

The front end of the Prius crumpled upon impact, and the bear was last seen running toward the reservoir. The extent of its injuries are, of course, unknown, but given the terrain in the area, “if it went down the embankment, I don’t know that it will be able to make its way up.”

The CHP investigation does not include trying to locate the bear, Machado said. A CHP Facebook post warns that anyone who sees the injured bear should not approach it. “Call the CHP or Department of Fish and Wildlife so we can respond and assess the needs of the bear.”

A Fish and Wildlife spokesman in Sacramento did not immediately know what if anything department staff in Tuolumne County would be doing. If the bear is found and can’t be treated, it will be put down, said Peter Tira, who noted that even if its injuries were found to be treatable, there are very few licensed rehab facilities that can handle bears.

Unfortunately, Tira said, wild animals are struck by vehicles every day, and “this is a classic example.”

A news release on Watch Out for Wildlife Week says collisions increase this time of year because animals start migrating to winter habitat, mating season begins for deer and elk, and bears spend more time foraging before hibernation.

“Many of California’s roadways cut through these animals’ routes,” the release says. “It is vital that drivers be especially alert now through December to avoid collisions with wild animals. These crashes not only harm wildlife, but they can damage vehicles and cause injury and death to drivers and passengers.”

In 2017 and 2018, according to the CHP, 15 people died and 810 people were injured in 4,368 collisions with animals on state, county and local roadways in California.

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