By Ruffin Prevost
UPDATED 3:32 P.M. Friday, June 22
Authorities have released new details from their investigation into an incident yesterday that left a driver in Grand Teton National Park injured and a young male grizzly bear dead, finding that excessive speed was not a factor.
Officers with the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the National Park Service have finished a preliminary investigation that has determined that a vehicle traveling south on Highway 26/89/191 in Grand Teton National Park swerved slightly to avoid a bear that was trying to cross the highway.
That unexpected maneuver caused the northbound vehicle to also swerve, over-correct, and veer off into the sagebrush on the west side of the highway. A 29-year-old Pennsylvania man, whose name has not been disclosed, was driving the northbound car, and sustained minor injuries in the wreck.
After it left the highway, the man’s vehicle collided with the grizzly bear, according to information released by the Grand Teton National Park public affairs office. The vehicle came to rest about 80 feet off the road.
Findings from investigators’ reconstruction of the accident scene suggest that neither vehicle was speeding at the time of the incident. The daytime speed limit at the incident site is 55 mph.
MOOSE, WYO. — Grand Teton National Park rangers are investigating the circumstances surrounding a single-vehicle incident this morning that left the driver injured and killed a young male grizzly bear.
Few details were immediately available about the incident, which happened just after 9 a.m. about one mile south of Snake River Overlook on Highway 26/89/191, according to information released by the Grand Teton National Park public affairs office.
The driver sustained minor injuries and was transported by ambulance to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming. The driver told rangers that he was swerving to avoid another vehicle that had stopped in the road to make a U-turn to view the bear.
A passerby called 911 to report the incident, and rangers confirmed that a bear had been hit and died from its injuries.
Grand Teton National Park biologists are collecting hair and tissue samples from the dead grizzly to determine its age and lineage, including whether it is a yearling cub of a tagged bear commonly known as grizzly 399. The highly visible grizzly 399 is a popular and beloved sow among Grand Teton visitors and photographers.
The incident is the first vehicle-caused bear fatality on park roads this year. On average, at least one black bear and/or grizzly bear each year is killed as the result of being struck by a vehicle.
In the past six years, vehicle-related deaths of bears include:
2006 — one black bear.
2007 — two black bears and one grizzly bear cub.
2009 — one black bear.
2010 — one grizzly bear; one black bear cub; and and one black bear cub and two other bears of an unverified species that were injured but left the scene.
2011 — two black bears.
Park officials remind drivers to drive carefully during the busy summer season, especially while viewing wildlife and scenery. Animals throughout the greater Yellowstone area commonly cross roads and use highways for their own travel.
Driving slower than posted speed limits—especially at night—can increase the margin of safety. Animal-vehicle collisions can be dangerous and costly. Federal regulations require drivers to report accidents involving property damage, personal injury, or death—including that of wildlife.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].