It was 3:30 a.m., and Brian McCarthy was fast asleep when a bear took his 2002 Toyota Prius for a test drive. The Pleasanton man's car had been parked in the driveway of his west Lake Tahoe cabin. After wedging itself inside the car, the bear became stuck. Frustrated, hungry and mad, it kicked, scratched, bit and tore at the interior of the hybrid, trying to force a way out as easily as it found its way in. In its behind-the-wheel rampage, the bear ripped open the seats, bit a chunk out of the steering wheel and damaged the Prius' gear box, shifting the car into neutral. From the safety of the cabin, the awakened family watched helplessly as the commandeered Prius slowly started rolling out of the driveway.
"Our son was the first one who woke up, and he was watching the bear through the window," McCarthy said. "We were looking out of our bedroom window and from our view, you could look down and see the bear in the car, and its arms were just flailing all over the place, through the windows and everything." The driveway was slightly inclined, so the car began picking up speed. The Prius rolled across the street, hopped a small rock wall and finally came to a stop on the porch steps of a neighbour's house. The bear eventually found its way out of the car and escaped back into the woods, leaving behind a totalled Prius.
McCarthy, 61, couldn't believe what he had just seen. He said he had no clue why a bear would want to get inside his car. "The car was completely closed. There wasn't any food in there," he said. "The only things in there were a beach towel, some CDs and a few phone chargers." The incident occurred on Aug. 28. McCarthy said he called the sheriff's department immediately to alert deputies to the bear's antics. The South Lake Tahoe Police Department answers calls about bears often, but McCarthy's situation was a bit different.
"We don't really get very many animal-vehicle break-ins out here, but it does happen," said Lt. David Stevenson of the South Lake Tahoe department. "I've never actually seen a bear open a car door before, but they have been known to stick their paws in the windows that are left cracked." Stevenson said the thought of a bear opening a door and accidentally crashing a car into a house was hard to imagine but not absurd. "Normally, you'll get reports of the Dumpster divers and trash divers, but bears breaking into cars is different," he said, laughing. "It's not uncommon, but it's definitely not a normal thing to hear about."