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Man driving on coastal NC highway collides with 600-pound bear in the dark

A 55-year-old man traveling Monday on U.S. 64 in coastal North Carolina collided with a 600-pound bear east of Washington County’s Roper community, reports WITN.

Columbia, N.C., resident Willie Melton was not hurt in the crash, which occurred around 5:15 a.m., but the bear was critically injured and did not survive, the station reported.

Melton was traveling about 65 mph when the bear appeared in his headlights on the four-lane highway, reported The Daily Press. He will not be charged, reported WNCN.

U.S. 64 parallels the Albemarle Sound through Washington County in eastern North Carolina, which is home to one of the state’s largest black bear populations, according to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

Officials with the North Carolina Bear Festival, based in the Washington County town of Plymouth, posted photos from the crash scene that showed the front of Melton’s car heavily damaged and the bear dead in a nearby patch of woods.

The bear was struck in the head and appeared to have suffered “internal trauma,” said Tom Harrison, director of the N.C. Black Bear Festival and the Washington County Travel & Tourism Authority.

North Carolina’s black bears can grow up to six feet tall and weigh as much as 700 pounds, according to NCPedia.org. The site says the world record size is 880 pounds for a bear in Craven County, N.C.

The state’s black bears thrive at opposite ends of the state: One population in the mountains and the other along the coast, says the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

Washington County’s Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula has one of the “highest black bear densities in the world,” according to Black Bear Festival officials.

Harrison told the Charlotte Observer that between 2015 and 2017, more than 200 bears a year were killed in road collisions in the state.

“We have an expanding human population and an expanding black bear population that are literally colliding on our highways in eastern N.C.,” festival officials posted on Facebook. “One of the challenges when driving on any highway is seeing a black bear on a black asphalt road on a black night.”

Vehicle collisions with bears are increasingly common in North Carolina, including a 2017 incident in southern Charlotte when a bear was struck on Interstate 485 near Providence Road. The bear escaped with unknown injuries, the Charlotte Observer reported.

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