Fatal black bear attack on woman in 2023 first in California, officials say

A woman’s death in Sierra County has been confirmed as the first documented fatal attack by a black bear on a human in California history, according to officials.

Patrice Miller, 71, was found dead in her Downieville home last November, but a recently released autopsy report by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has verified she was killed by a bear, the Sierra County Sheriff’s department said.

A sheriff’s deputy discovered Miller deceased in her home while conducting a welfare check after a grocery store employee reported that she had not been seen or heard from for several days, according to Sheriff Michael Fisher.

The sheriff’s office said when they found Miller, there were clear signs a bear had been inside the house. But officials believed Miller had died of natural causes and the bear broke into the house after her death and had been feeding on her remains.

The bear was eventually trapped and euthanized, the sheriff said.

However, a recently released autopsy revealed that Miller did not die of natural causes but had in fact been killed by the bear, the sheriff said.

“Post investigation, we found out that she had been having some bear issues at the house. And after we concluded our coroner’s investigation and removed her remains from the house, the bear continued to break into the house over and over again over the next several days,” Fisher added.

The sheriff said further investigation revealed bears had been prowling around Miller’s house for some time because she would leave cat food on the front porch for her cats and there was garbage around the home as well. Miller’s daughter also told authorities that one particular bear would come to the house quite often and her mother had put bars on the windows to keep the bear away.

“It’s a big deal. That doesn’t happen in California. Normally a bear is going to stay away from you, a bear that hasn’t been normalized to human behavior,” Steve Gonzalez with the fish and wildlife department told CNN affiliate KCRA.

Last month, there had been reports of another bear breaking into homes in the mountain community. That bear has also been euthanized, the sheriff said.

Fisher said that bears are seen around the area regularly, but usually they’re rummaging through garbage or breaking into cars for food, and flee when they see a human.

“We deal with bears on a weekly basis through spring, summer and fall and 99.9% of those animals are not a public safety (issue). They’re a nuisance, but they’re not a public safety (issue),” the sheriff said.

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