TUOLUMNE COUNTY (CBS13) — The California Highway Patrol is warning drivers to be on the lookout for wildlife following an incident Tuesday morning when a driver struck a bear.
The incident happened just before 6 a.m. Tuesday on State Route 49 near New Melones Reservoir in Tuolumne County.
“I don’t know what else I could have done. I didn’t see it. I wasn’t speeding,” said driver Damian Riley.
Riley told CBS13 he has grown up around bears his entire life.
“I’m Native American, Miwok, so bears in our culture are not just an animal. They’re like family,” Riley said.
His father is a retired Yosemite National Park Ranger, and Riley is an avid backcountry hiker. Also, as members of the Miwok tribe, his family has participated in several ceremonies honoring the animal.
“I’ve seen bears my whole life and this was not only a bear but the biggest bear I’ve ever seen,” Riley said.
Riley was still shaken hours after the crash.
“It really hurts me that I hurt a bear and I’m sorry for that,” Riley said.
He said he was on his way to a hospital in San Andreas for a shoulder procedure when the estimated 650-pound bear came out of nowhere.
“The impact from that animal was traumatic, it was violent,” he said. “It was so fast, that what was a shadow in my peripheral vision came in front of my car within in two seconds flat.”
The CHP said it was the second bear collision this summer and one of the numerous incidents involving wildlife.
“We’ve had a mountain lion that’s been struck, a couple bears now that have been struck this summer,” said CHP spokesperson Steve Machado.
Machado said Riley didn’t do anything wrong. He was driving the speed limit and following the rules of the road.
“After the collision, he was able to move his car to the shoulder of the road and the bear was able to run off into the woods,” said Machado.
The colossal collision is a good reminder to be on high alert when driving in areas where wildlife live.
“If there was another person in the car or a car in the next lane it could have been serious,” added Riley.
The CHP said in June two motorcyclists hit and killed a young mountain lion but escaped injury themselves. Prior to that, a driver struck a bear in another incident, but the bear was able to scamper off.
The men don’t know whether the bear was badly injured in this incident but warn people not to approach it if they see it in the area.
“Bears can be really unpredictable, so it’s best to let the professionals handle it,” said Machado.
They’re urging people to call Sonora CHP or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.