• 36°

La. resident has beary intriguing car accident

SICILY ISLAND — It was dark, the animal was black and Melinda “Mindy” Ratcliff was traveling the speed limit, 65 mph so she was unable to get a good look at it when it barreled into her car.

But, she thinks it was a bear that ran into her car on Louisiana 15 near Sicily Island at approximately 8:30 p.m. March 16 when she was headed to her home in Wisner, La.

“I’m not really sure (what it was) because I didn’t see him until he got right at me,” Ratcliff said.

“I could see its head right near my hood when it hit me.”

Ratcliff said the animal hit her car on the driver’s side right near the front tire.

“It messed up the front bumper, it messed up the front light, it messed up my door and back door and a little of the back panel above the tire,” Ratcliff said.

Ratcliff assumes the animal was a bear, because it was so big that it obviously survived the incident. The animal was not there when the Louisiana State Police showed up to investigate. The only evidence left was Ratcliff’s beat up car and some fur.

“There wasn’t anything out there, but there was fur on the car, and (the authorities) are getting it analyzed,” Ratcliff said.

She is unsure if the Louisiana State Police are conducting the investigation or if it is the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, she said.

Maria Davidson, LDWF large carnivore program manager, was unaware of the incident, she said.

“Accidents are fairly common but I don’t remember anything coming out of (that area),” Davidson said.

“(The number of accidents) vary by season but we can sometimes see as many as three bears a month killed by cars.”

The Louisiana State Police Department could not be reached for comment.

Ratcliff escaped the incident relatively unharmed.

“My shoulder was a little sore, probably from the seat belt.”

Although Ratcliff says she is unsure of what it was that ran into her car, the evidence points to it being a bear, she said.

“It looked like one, for one thing. It looked like a black bear with a brown snout. I could see its head over the hood a little bit,” Ratcliff said.

“If it had been any other kind of animal I think it would have been dead, but whatever it was got up and walked away.”

Ratcliff said that one of the Louisiana State Police officers mentioned that the LDWF might have released some bears in the area, prior to the incident.

Davidson said that from 2001 to 2009 the LDWF was working on a relocation program that placed bears at the Three Rivers and Red River Wildlife Managment Areas and the Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge. All of these areas are about 50 miles south of Sicily Island.

Davidson said that bears expand their territory naturally and they could possibly have made it to Sicily Island.

Ratcliff is waiting on the fur samples to be investigated to be sure. She was told the tests would take 10-14 days, she said.

Davidson did not have an estimate of how many bears live in the area of the accident.

The most recent population study showed that there were about 300 bears in the area of the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, north of Sicily Island and about 60 bears in the Northeastern Atchafalaya Basin in Pointe Coupee Parish, south of Sicily Island, Davidson said.

The Louisiana Black Bear is listed as imperiled by the LDWF, meaning there are anywhere from six to 20 known existing populations.

Northeast Louisiana is one of the regions that these populations reside.

Davidson added some tips to help drivers avoid similar accidents.

“Preventing bear accidents is similar to what someone in an area with a high concentration of deer would do, if you are in a wooded area, the best plan of action is to slow down,” Davidson said.

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