WEEKI WACHEE — Chris Fowler was rushing in his ambulance to a medical call when a black blur appeared in the corner of his eye.
"All I saw was a shadow come right out of the woods," said Fowler, 31, an emergency medical technician for Hernando County Fire Rescue "It was moving quick and looked like either a really big black Lab or a small bear."
It turned out to be the wilder of the two.
A roughly 225 pound male black bear ran into the side of the ambulance about 6:20 p.m. Monday as Fowler and his partner were heading east on Cortez Boulevard between Shoal Line Boulevard and U.S. 19.
Fowler stopped and dispatchers sent another unit to his call. The force of the impact ripped part of the ambulance's front fender away and dented the side step and patient cabin.
The bear hobbled off into a nearby marshy area and died before a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrived.
The animal likely would have been euthanized, said Chad Allison, a district biologist with the commission.
"When wildlife are injured to the point that they're not able to seek shelter or escape, they're in a condition that doesn't support rehabilitation," he said.
A commission biologist measured the bear and took a hair sample before burying the animal in the nearby Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, Allison said. The bear appeared to not be fully grown and likely was a member of the Chassahowitzka population.
With 25 bears at most, it's the smallest in the state and maybe in the country, Allison said. The bears generally roam from Crystal River in Citrus County to Aripeka on the Pasco-Hernando line, so they regularly cross the stretch of Cortez where Monday's collision happened, he said. A female bear was killed by a car there about six years ago.
"It's not good, but I'd be a lot more saddened if it had been a female," Allison said. "It's the females that produce the cubs."
Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.