"I don't know if it was looking for food, water," says Cookeville resident Joanne Sidwell.
Sidwell lives in a residential neighborhood just off I40 in Cookeville. A few months back, the retired phone company worker was on her way home on Bunker Hill Road, in the city limits, when she was involved in an unusual crash.
"I saw it out of the corner of my eye and then it just ran across in front of my car," says Sidwell. "Course, I slammed on the brakes, but I still hit it."
Sidwell hit a black bear cub. The bear apparently wasn't badly hurt.
"It just kind of tumbled a little bit and it took off," says Sidwell. "There's woods behind the house and it went back into the woods."
The encounter did $1500 worth of damage to Sidwell's car. Police and the guys at Julian's, her local body shop, were a little skeptical until others reported seeing the bear too.
"Deer hits are pretty common," says Julian's Body Shop's Tommy Mittlesteadt. "Dog hits are pretty common. We've even had some raccoon hits, but this is our first bear hit."
Black bears have also started popping up on game cameras in Middle Tennessee, one from just across the border in Monroe County, Kentucky.
"You're hearing more and more about bears here in this area, and I've had a couple of friends of mine who caught bears on their trail cameras close to where they're hunting at," says Putnam County Hunter Matt Julian.
Incidents involving black bears and people in Middle Tennessee are still relatively rare, but state wildlife officials confirm bears, once common across the state, are expanding their territory.
"Let your presence be known because one thing you don't want to do is startle them," says TWRA Wildlife Biologist Ben Layton.
Layton is a Bear Specialist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. He says bears are motivated largely by food. They're looking for nourishment, trying to survive. Right now, black bears are particularly active, trying to put on weight to help them make it through winter. That could bring them closer to you.
"People feeding pets on their porches, putting out dog food," says Layton. "When a bear can smell it and a bear can get to it, it's bad because that's going to lead the bear up to that food source, which is those people's back yard or back porches."
For the most part, bears are leery of people. You're most at risk when a bear starts to associate you with food, but bears are wild animals, and their behavior can be erratic. There have been 2 deadly attacks in Tennessee. In 2000, Sevier County School Teacher Glenda Ann Bradley was fatally mauled in the Smokies. In 2006, 6 year old Elora Petrosek was killed after her family was attacked. Neither incident was provoked.
"We really haven't had a whole lot of those type outcomes when it has turned out badly, but the potential is there," says Layton.
That's why the TWRA is trying to spread the word: Black bears are expanding their territory. You can now expect to see them in Middle Tennessee. Depending on where you live, you may one day have to take the same precautions to keep bears out of your trash as you do when you're in the Smokies. The rise of bears in the Midstate can also be linked to the re-introduction of black bears into the Big South Fork National Recreation Area on the Cumberland Plateau in the late 90s. Those bears are now even heavier than their cousins in the Smokies. For more information on how to safely co-exist with black bears, go to Fox17.com and click on FOX LINKS.
Special Report Videos
Porsche tops in annual survey of vehicle quality
DETROIT (AP) -- Porsche is the top performer in an annual survey of new vehicle quality.
BC-US--Dow Record-Three Personal Stories, 1st Ld-Writethru,1173
Dow Record: Three tales of ups, downs and changes
AP Photo FX102, FX103
Eds: With BC-US--Dow Record. Adds photos.
By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ
AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- When the Dow first crossed 14,000, investors were overjoyed. ...
IN THE NEWS: INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS SAY SURVEILLANCE FOILED PLOT TO BOMB NYSE
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S.
VEGAS STRIP-THRILL RIDE
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- If losing your shirt in Sin City isn't enough -- you could soon lose lunch.