Bear wanders onto road, is struck, killed by truck

Predawn accident occurs on B-W Parkway

June 09, 2000|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Drivers who might be more apt to worry about dodging deer ran across an unexpected visitor on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway near Hanover early yesterday - a young black bear, in a brief and fatal encounter with civilization.

The bear didn't get far, only into the slow lane, before it was hit by a southbound Chevrolet pickup truck about an hour before dawn and sent surprised drivers of other vehicles into sudden swerves, authorities said.

State police said little damage was done to the pickup, whose driver was identified as Jimmie Baker of the 3600 block of Elmley Ave. in Baltimore. He was not injured, but the bear was dead at the scene.

"It was pretty flat," said Kenneth Wright, whose Honda Accord went into a spin and hit a signpost. "People were going around it, but, well, some didn't see it."

Wright, who was on his way to his job in diplomatic security at the U.S. State Department, said, "Honestly, I'm a city kid, so that's the first time I've seen a bear, dead or alive. I was like, `You're never going to believe this.'"

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources sent a wildlife biologist to pick up the remains from the road, about a mile north of Route 100 and minutes from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Agency spokesman John Surrick said a hair sample was taken for a bear DNA database it is creating, along with a tooth. Bear teeth, like trees, have rings that help determine age. The parkway bear was a male about 2 years old and weighed no more than 100 pounds, the department said.

Bears have been growing in number in Western Maryland and have begun turning up in suburbia. Most of those spotted around the Baltimore area, including one in Owings Mills last year, are believed to be 2-year-olds pushed away from home territory by their mothers, experts said.

"It's a tough time for yearlings right now," said Kim McGrath, director of the American Bear Association. "Mom takes care of them for 18 months, and then she forcibly chases them away."

The bears can travel hundreds of miles in search of territory and food, Surrick said, adding that DNR officials thought this one might have come from Pennsylvania.

Bear sightings have increased. Residents around Prettyboy Reservoir in northern Baltimore County have reported seeing at least one mature bear about 6 feet tall and more than 250 pounds in recent months.

State officials recently considered a proposal to legalize limited bear hunting in some counties, a practice outlawed since 1953. The hunting proposal was rejected, but all sides of the debate recognized the demographic trend.

People typically encounter transient bears in suburban communities close to woods. But bears will go pretty much anywhere in search of food, McGrath said. "Bears are incredibly shy and reclusive animals," she said. "The only thing that will override their shyness is hunger."

Suburb-bound bears often follow their hunger to trash cans and birdfeed holders, joining raccoons as neighborhood pests. But humans have little to fear if they leave the bears alone, the experts say.

"They're wild animals, and you should trerseat them with respect," Surrick said. "If people see a bear, they should enjoy it, take a picture, and leave it alone."

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