SONORA -- A Tuolumne County couple was sore and shaken after hitting a large bear with their car Tuesday near Angels Camp.
Damian Riley and his wife, Andrea, were driving down Highway 49 on their way to an early morning medical appointment when something shadow-like suddenly entered Damian’s peripheral vision.
"By the time I tried to even comprehend what I was looking at, it was in front of my car and I barely had time to hit the brakes,” Damian told FOX40. “And it was just bam, just hit it dead on. And at the last second, I realized it was a bear and it was, honestly, one of the biggest bears I've ever seen."
The impact badly dented their Prius and the airbags deployed.
"It was violent,” Damian said. “It was shocking how much kinetic energy those bears have verses your car."
Damian and Andrea were OK after the violent crash.
"I don't know what else I could have done," Damian said.
The bear was nowhere to be found after the accident.
Damian felt bad about hitting the wild animal and identifies as a lifelong wildlife lover. The son of a park ranger, he grew up in the foothills and is well aware people share the area with many animals.
He said if it happened to him, it can happen to anybody.
"Just be super careful," Damian said.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has declared this week "Watch Out for Wildlife Week," which marks the beginning of the migration season, especially for deer.
According to the California Highway Patrol, 15 people died and more than 800 were injured in collisions with animals between 2017 and 2018 in California.
"Really look to the sides of the road because that's where everything’s going to come from,” Damian explained. “It's not necessarily just going to be sitting in the center of the road."
The experience for Damian and his wife was also a lesson in humanity and the value of a good Samaritan.
"Smoke coming out of the car, the hazards are flashing, and I went to wave people down to kind of help," Damian recalled.
He said between 10 and 15 cars passed by until finally a man named Travis from Twain Harte pulled over and provided comfort while they waited for emergency crews.
"It's always a good idea to just remember that we're all in this together and if you see someone on the side of the road that is obviously hurt to give them a hand. Because it made a difference for us, big time," Damian said.
Wildlife authorities urge, if you see an injured bear, report it to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.