Doug Hammit talks about the bear that damaged his SUV during the night. Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press
The whereabouts of a large black bear spotted by at least three people destroying property in a neighborhood near Woodland Elementary School remained unknown Thursday.
Doug and Delores Hammitt, 921 N. North St., told the Johnson City Press on Thursday that a 400-pound bear had smashed the window out of their SUV, dragged a steel garbage can full of birdseed through hedges and busted up wood and steel fences while apparently rummaging for food. They said a neighbor also reported seeing the bear.
“We’ve seen him up close and personal,” Doug Hammitt said while pointing out various places where he and his wife have encountered the animal. “It gets your heart started. He’s big. We first saw it last Thursday. It was near our front fence when I first saw it. I came out and it ran along the side of the house and scrambled over the wooden fence, which is all bent and leaning now.”
Delores Hammitt said she noticed on Saturday night that her cat was staring out at something from a window sill.
“I’ve never had to be afraid here, but this was a big black bear,” she said. “I looked out and saw the bear picking up a metal garbage can full of birdseed that was shut tight. It dragged it through some hedges. It looked like he pulled it out and jumped all over it.
The bear made another appearance on Saturday night.
“It wasn’t 10 minutes later and it was facing the shed near our side entrance,” Doug Hammitt said. “It was about 20 feet away. I open the door, then banged it, and it ran away. But it came back on Tuesday and broke the back window of the SUV. It looked like he’d leaned his paws on it. The police told us, ‘if he’ll break a car window, he’ll break a house window.’ ”
The Hammitts contacted the Johnson City Police Department, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control after the bear first appeared in their yard last week. Officials were not searching for the animal as of Thursday afternoon.
“On wildlife-related calls, our involvement is very limited unless someone is being attacked,” said Johnson City Police Capt. Brian Rice. “The TWRA is the main point of contact on that.”
TWRA Officer David Crum said it is not uncommon to see bears in and around Johnson City and that they have been sighted at various times near the former National Guard Armory and near the Boys & Girls Club — both off West Market Street — the same area in which the Hammitts live.
“The good thing is we’ve had no reports of aggressive behavior of bears toward humans this year,” Crum said. “We’ve had bears roaming around the East Tennessee State University campus before. This is bear country. We advise folks to remove food sources from outdoors. That goes for all animals, including raccoons and possums. It’s also a time when people begin to barbecue, and we advise people not to leave any food out and to clean their grills when they’re finished cooking.”
Meanwhile, the Hammitts remain very guarded. They asked the Press help get the word out about a bear in the area and expressed concern over a neighbor who has small children.
“We been here 43 years, and we’ve never seen a bear,” Delores Hammitt said. “We have raccoons and groundhogs — but never a bear. We’ve been told, ‘If he gets aggressive, shoot it.’ We just want the neighbors to know they should be aware its out there. The more it hangs around here, the less afraid he’s going to be.”
Earlier report posted at 10:23 a.m.:
A large black bear is wreaking havoc in a neighborhood near Woodland Elementary School.
Doug and Delores Hammitt, 921N. North St., told the Press today a 400-lb. bear has smashed the window out of their SUV, dragged a steel garbage can full of bird seed through hedges and busted up wood and steel fences while apparently rummaging for food.
The Hammitts have warned neighbors about the bear. They have also called the Tennessee Wildlife Services and local animal control, however neither agency is pursuing the bear, according to the Hammits.
"Police were out here Wednesday, and they told us to inform the Press," said Doug Hammitt. "He has to be coming out of hibernation. Police told us if he'd break a car window he might break the windows in our home, so I've put steel bars across the back windows. They said, 'If he gets aggressive, shoot it.' We just want the neighbors to know they should be aware it's out there."
Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more details on this developing story.