Bear attacks 84-year-old homeless man sleeping in California foothills, officials say

An 84-year-old homeless man camping in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles woke Tuesday night to find a bear rummaging through his camp, KTTV reported.

“He reached out, extended his hand so the bear could smell him,” said Lt. J.C. Healy, a California Fish and Wildlife spokesman, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.

That’s when the intruder, described as a 200- to 300-pound bear, attacked, seriously injuring the man’s head and arm, KCBS reported.

“He believes the bear may have been playing with him, but when he tried to swat it away, it took a swipe at him,” said Sgt. Charles Kamchamnan of the Sierra Madre Police Department, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The man fled to a nearby neighborhood in Sierra Madre, where he hid behind a gate while the bear, which had followed him, wandered around before leaving, KNBC reported.

Residents called 911 to report the man running around the neighborhood ringing doorbells, KCBS reported. The man declined to go to a hospital but was treated by paramedics.

“He was lucky,” Kamchamnan said, the Los Angeles Times reported. “It could have been much worse.”

State Fish and Wildlife officers will look for the bear and compare DNA taken from the man’s sleeping bag and clothes to find a match, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.

“Unfortunately, with a wildlife attack, we always have to err on the side of caution,” Healy said, KCBS reported. “This is a public safety issue. It’s a sad reality, if we do catch the offending animal, most likely it’ll have to be euthanized.”

The man, who declined to give his name to the media, said he had observed wildlife in the past while camping in the area since 2002 but had never been attacked, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.