A 66-year-old Vietnam veteran was recovering at a neighbor’s Mariposa County home Thursday after he fought off an attacking black bear earlier that morning.
Neighbor and longtime friend Don Chambers told the Merced Sun-Star that Larry Yepez’s small service dog, a Yorkshire terrier, helped him by barking and distracting the bear during the attack. The dog was unhurt and is also staying with Chambers.
“I was fighting,” Yepez told Fresno television station ABC 30. “I was doing everything I could to try and get him off of me.”
Yepez likely startled the bear, which was ripping through his trash, when he walked outside his home in the 5300 block of Colorado Road in Midpines around 4 a.m., said Lt. Chris Stoots of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Yepez said in the TV interview that he yelled at the bear and hit it with a plastic tub to try to get it off his porch.
Stoots said the bear attacked Yepez from behind and took him to the ground. The veteran fought the bear off, but he sustained lacerations and puncture wounds to his face, body, arms and legs.
“It was unreal,” Yepez told ABC 30. “There he was – he was right on top of me. That’s when he went down and grabbed me by the side of the face.”
Yepez managed to drive himself to the hospital, which released him Thursday afternoon. Chambers told the Sun-Star that Yepez, who lives alone, was recovering at his residence.
Several other neighbors along Colorado Road said they had heard reports of bear sightings along Rancheria Creek Road to the north. Yepez’s home is close to where Rancheria Creek curves and dead ends into Colorado.
Stoots said that bear encounters are increasing, likely because the animals are entering populated areas to find food and water in the drought-stricken state.
However, actual attacks are rare, he added.
A search continues for the bear, which will likely be euthanized due to the significance and persistence of the attack, Stoots said. “There’s no specific protocol for how the bear would be euthanized, but it would most likely be shot in the most humane way possible,” he said.
Stoots said forensics will need to be collected to determine which bear committed the attack.
The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office is warning residents to watch their children and pets, and dial 911 if they encounter a bear.