Published January 13, 2015
One moment Howard Hawkins Jr. was driving to get an early morning cup of coffee and the next he hit a large grizzly bear running at a full gallop across one of Anchorage's busiest streets.
"It is just unreal," Hawkins said Friday, less than 12 hours after his 2002 Land Rover struck the bear. "It just happened so fast. I didn't have time to react. I wasn't even able to hit my brakes or anything. What stopped the forward motion of the car is that I ran into a big bear."
Hawkins, 57, plowed into the bear shortly before 4 a.m. in what is the latest in a summer of close encounters between human and bruin in Alaska's largest city.
The male bear came out of the woods from one of Anchorage's many greenbelts. It was struck on a four-lane highway near a large car dealership and RV campground. The collision pushed in the front end of Hawkins' Land Rover. The vehicle's air bags deployed but Hawkins was uninjured.
"The poor animal just came from nowhere," he said.
He called 911 and got out of his car to await police. The bear, now angry and in a lot of pain with a broken leg, was behind the Land Rover stumbling around, roaring and growling.
Officers arrived within minutes and advised Hawkins to get back in his vehicle; he did.
At one point, the bear charged the officers, police spokesman Paul Honeman said.
The grizzly made its way off the road and back into the woods, where officers found it and killed it.
The bear was No. 211, a 15-year-old grizzly that was part of a state Fish and Game research study to determine how many bears there are in Anchorage.
The bear was trapped in 2006 and fitted with a global positioning collar that showed it stayed mostly in one of two areas, including Far North Bicentennial Park where there have been two bear maulings and several encounters with grizzlies this summer.
One of the bears, a sow with two cubs that was believed to be responsible for much of the trouble, was shot and killed Tuesday. DNA showed that bear was not the one responsible for the most serious attack, on a 15-year-old bicyclist.
The grizzlies come into Anchorage in the summer to feed on salmon and moose, said Sean Farley, a Fish and Game research biologist who conducted the study that showed residents share the city with at least 20 grizzlies.
"He was primarily looking for fish," Farley said.
While the city's black bears get more attention because they get into garbage, the grizzlies largely go unnoticed. People using the city's extensive trail system could be 50 yards from a grizzly and never know it, Farley said.
So far this summer, 18 black bears and one grizzly have been shot in the municipality in defense of life or property. That's a higher number than normal, said Jessy Coltrane, an assistant area wildlife biologist. Last year, that total was about 10 black bears and one grizzly, she said.
Coltrane attributes the higher number this summer to a "social reaction" among city residents. When there are maulings, people are less tolerant, she said.
Coltrane said No. 211 did not have a history of trouble and was an example of the many grizzles that quietly share the city with residents.
"It just goes to show Anchorage is bear country," said Bruce Bartley, a Fish and Game spokesman. "This is a bear that had lived to a ripe old age in an urban setting and had done pretty well until today."