'Massive' bear struck by SUV on Dayton Boulevard in Red Bank

Bear versus vehicle is now an accident category in Red Bank, since a driver struck a large black bear at about 10:15 Sunday night on Dayton Boulevard just two blocks from City Hall.

"Originally, the person thought they'd struck a pedestrian," police Chief Tim Christol said. Then, the driver saw a "bear jump up and start running," the chief said.

The driver struck the bear near the Green Gables Apartments in the 2800 block of Dayton Boulevard, Christol said. The injured animal got up and ran a few hundred yards to the east. Red Bank police officers followed the bear's blood trail as far as they could. When they lost it, they called the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Its officers used a tracking dog to find the badly injured bear in some bushes and high grass about 100 feet from a house.

"Unfortunately, they had to put the animal down," said Christol, who saw a photo of the dead bear's paw. "It was a very, very large animal. His paw was massive compared to the hands that were holding it."

The bear probably weighed between 200 and 250 pounds, said TWRA Wildlife Officer Joseph McSpadden, who tracked the animal with TWRA Sgt. Ben Davis and Davis' Labrador retriever.

"It was visibly injured. It had a broken lower jaw," McSpadden said. "We don't like having to put animals down -- but it happens."

He was told that a sport utility vehicle hit the bear, and the bear went underneath the SUV.

The TWRA disposed of the dead bear in a nearby wildlife resources areas so vultures and other scavengers can eat its carcass.

"He wasn't tagged or tattooed, so he wasn't a bear that had been relocated," McSpadden said.

The last bear-versus-vehicle accident in Hamilton County that McSpadden knows of took place almost exactly a year ago when a Chattanooga police officer in his patrol car hit a bear at Signal Mountain Road near U.S. 27.

Bear sightings are "fairly uncommon in our area. But the bear numbers are increasing in our area," said Tish Gailmard, wildlife curator at the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

Bear populations are growing throughout the region. Litters are bigger, and more females are breeding.

Bears are all around us, Gailmard said. They're typically just not seen in populated areas such as busy Dayton Boulevard.

"They are native to our area, it's just fairly uncommon to see them in our immediate area," she said. "But they are in surrounding counties."

Staff writer Kevin Hardy contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu @timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.