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Sheriff: Bear got into Downieville woman's home after her death

Bear entered Sierra County woman's home after her death
Bear entered Sierra County woman's home after her death 02:39

DOWNIEVILLE – Deputies doing a welfare check on a Sierra County woman's home not only discovered that she had died, but also that a bear had gotten in after her death.

The Sierra County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday that deputies responded to 71-year-old Patrice Miller's Downieville home on November 8 after someone reported not seeing or hearing from her for the past several days.

Deputies had to force their way into the home. Miller was found dead inside.

Exactly when and how she died is still under investigation, but deputies found evidence that a bear had managed to get inside and had an encounter with Miller. As the sheriff's office noted, however, investigators believe Miller died before the bear entered her home. 

In the Sierra high country, bear experts say it is the time of year when their activity is on the rise. 

"Right now, they are all in hyperphagia which is when they eat, eat, eat, they can't stop eating. They eat 20 hours a day," said Ann Bryant of the Bear League of the Lake Tahoe basin.

Bryant says it is a desperate hunt for food that will turn their attention to your home. It's possible that is why the Downieville death investigation now has this morbid twist. 

Investigators believe the bear was possibly drawn by the scent or other factors in Miller's home. They have not released how long Miller's body was decomposing in her home, but Bryant says even just a few days would no doubt attract a bear.

"Bears have an incredible sense of smell. That would have smelled to a bear like food," said Bryant, adding that seeking out the smell is well within a bear's nature and not a sign of a significant threat to humans. 

But important factors to consider for the Department of Fish and Wildlife as they investigate any further potential risk to the public are how the bear got into the home, if the primarily vegetarian animal actually eat human flesh, and if so, does that change this bear's appetite?

"In my opinion, I don't think that's an issue. But for the Department of Wildlife, it might be. They cannot risk that a bear has developed a taste for that," said Bryant. 

With public safety a top priority, the sheriff's office is asking those who live in and around Downieville to "exercise caution and take necessary precautions to avoid potential encounters with all wildlife."

"If you are in bear country, don't be afraid. Be smart, and close and lock your accessible doors and windows," said Bryant.

California Fish and Wildlife officials are now trying to track the bear and decipher its behavior. 

"The Sierra County Sheriff's Office extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Patrice Miller during this difficult time. The loss of a community member is always a tragedy, and our thoughts are with those affected by this unfortunate event," the sheriff's office wrote in a statement.

No other details about the bear the bear have been released.

Agencies encourage all residents to follow simple "Bearwise tips" and to begin securing crawl spaces to prevent bears from finding their new den under homes. 

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