Midpines victim of bear attack recovering

Frank Milazzo, the game warden for Mariposa County, describes how a Midpines resident fought off a bear Thursday.
Frank Milazzo, the game warden for Mariposa County, describes how a Midpines resident fought off a bear Thursday. bvaccari@mercedsun-star.com

Larry Yepez, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who lives in Midpines, is recovering at a neighbor’s house with his Yorkie, Benji, after being attacked by a bear Thursday on his front porch.

Yepez stepped outside about 4 a.m. at his home in the 5300 block of Colorado Road. He was almost immediately knocked down by a California black bear, said Chris Stoots, a lieutenant with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Yepez fought with the bear and knocked it off its feet by hitting it with a flower pot. But the bear got back up and went after Yepez again. Yepez scrambled inside and closed the door as the bear continued to push on the door and try to get inside.

Despite being severely injured, Yepez drove himself to the John C. Fremont Hospital in Mariposa, said Frank Milazzo, the game warden for Mariposa County investigating the incident. Yepez was treated for rabies and received a tetanus shot and antibiotics before he was released.

His injuries include bite wounds to his head and other extremities, scratches, lacerations and defensive wounds to his hands. Milazzo said Yepez bled profusely and had severe bruising and soreness from the fight.

“Mr. Yepez is a very tough individual,” Milazzo said. “He is a Vietnam veteran and is used to defending himself in situations. He did an amazing job of survival. It could have turned out a lot worse.”

Investigators searched the area around Yepez’s home after the incident, but were unable to find the bear. They found a trash bag that was ripped open with its contents strewn about on Yepez’s porch. They believe the trash is what lured the bear to the residence.

Because of the severity of the incident, the bear likely will be euthanized when found, Stoots said.

Shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday, Don Chambers, a neighbor and longtime friend, collected a toothbrush and some vitamins from Yepez’s home. Yepez and Benji, his service dog, were resting at Chambers’ house. Caution tape blocked off the driveway to Yepez’s home.

Chambers said Yepez has lived in Midpines for 30 to 40 years.

“He’s accustomed to what you’re supposed to do in these situations,” he said. “He’s doing OK. He’s a veteran, wounded in combat. As Larry said: ‘If the North Vietnamese couldn’t get me, this bear couldn’t get me.’”

Yepez described the bear as a young cub, 1 to 2 years old, and about 200 pounds, Chambers said.

Bears and other wildlife rarely attack humans, Stoots said. The last known bear attack happened about a month and a half ago in Butte County, he said.

But bears and wildlife are wandering out of their comfort zones and closer to civilization in search of food as drought conditions worsen in the state, Chambers said.

Bob Langager, who owns the Midpines Country Store on Highway 140, said he’s heard of bear sightings more this year than he ever remembers.

Langager’s next-door neighbor saw a bear about a week ago, and another neighbor saw a mountain lion a couple weeks ago, he said.

“We’re very concerned,” Langager said. “Could you imagine if a bear got inside the store?”

Brent Coffman, an electrician who lives in Midpines, said the bear was on his property on Whitlock Road, about a mile from where the attack happened.

“The dogs chased it away a couple of times,” Coffman said. “It hadn’t shown any aggression toward people.”

Thursday, though, two people called him. “They said I needed to look out for a bear that’s been attacking people,” he said.

Stoots said the CDFW encourages people in areas such as Midpines to “coexist” with wildlife. But residents also should be responsible and keep any trash, food or pet feed confined, he said.

The Modesto Bee contributed to this report.

Brianna Vaccari: 209-385-2477