Woman's 2023 death was first fatal black bear attack on a human in California history, officials say

A woman found dead last year in a mountain community was the victim of the first documented fatal black bear attack on a human in California, authorities said.

The death occurred in Downieville, a tiny town in the Sierra Nevada, two hours northeast of the state capital, Sacramento TV station KCRA reported Wednesday.

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On Nov. 8, Sierra County sheriff’s deputies checking on the welfare of a resident who hadn’t been seen for a few days found a broken door and bear scat on the porch, Sheriff Mike Fisher told the station. Inside were the remains of Patrice Miller, 71.

“It appeared that the bear had probably been there several days and had been feeding on the remains,” Fisher said.

It was initially believed that Miller died before the arrival of the bear and that it may have been drawn by the scent.

Meanwhile, there were many reports from concerned citizens about a bear repeatedly returning to the house. A state depredation permit was issued and a bear was trapped on the property and euthanized, according to Fisher.

Homes in the city of Downieville, Calif., can be seen on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. A bear that repeatedly broke into residences and vehicles in Sierra County was killed this week after it attempted to break into a school gym, the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office said.  (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Then came the findings of Miller’s autopsy, which were first reported by The Mountain Messenger, a local weekly newspaper.

“Patrice had passed away due to a bear mauling or a swipe and a bite to the neck area,” Fisher said.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that it was the first record of a deadly black bear attack on a human in the state.

“It’s a big deal,” said Steve Gonzalez, a department spokesperson. “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.”

Investigators learned from Miller’s daughter that her mother had a constant problem with bears trying to get into her home, and that she had physically hit one.

Another bear then became a problem in Downieville and was euthanized after trying to break into a school gym, resulting in a significant decrease in bear activity, the sheriff said.

DNA tests confirmed that the first bear euthanized was responsible for killing Miller.

Bears breaking into homes or trash cans in search of food have become a problem in California — from Lake Tahoe in the Sierra down to the foothill suburbs of Los Angeles, where some have been known to raid refrigerators and take dips in backyard pools and hot tubs.

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