The weekly commute from Salmon Arm to Hinton, Alta., is generally pretty routine for Jerry Petkau.
But not last Tuesday.
Petkau, who works for Teck Coal in Hinton, set out for his home in Salmon Arm first thing on Aug. 6.
The weather was a little cloudy and wet, but the roads were good.
As he got to Moose Lake on Highway 16 in Mt. Robson Provincial Park, he could see a semi about to meet him in the eastbound lane.
Just at that moment, a bear suddenly appeared at the top of a steep bank on the semi’s side of the highway.
“The semi was right there. The bear decided to cross the road, it didn’t hesitate. I thought the semi was going to hit it.”
The rest was a bit of a blur for Petkau because it happened so fast.
“I remember seeing the bear and thinking, ‘Oh no.’”
Petkau was travelling around 100 km/h.
He made a slight evasive maneuver, but steered back, realizing the only place his car was going to go was into the other lane.
“I hit the bear, I didn’t even have time to hit the brakes.”
He says the hood flew up, covering the windshield, and the engine immediately stalled, compromising the brakes and steering.
Still, he managed to limp the car to the side of the road.
With so much steam — or what he thought might be smoke — coming from the engine, he wasn’t sure if it was going to blow up, so he jumped out.
“The semi driver came running over and he thanked me. He said, ‘I saw you made an evasive move over to my side of the lane and stopped. Any farther you would have hit me.’”
Petkau was in shock for a couple of hours, reeling from what had appeared to be imminent death.
“I was very thankful I was driving an Audi car…The crash features probably saved my life, just the way the car is built. It has a big, heavy steel bumper you never know is there.”
The bear, however, did not fare well.
“It blew the bear apart. The biggest part left was the head.
”The rest of the bear was scattered all over the highway — you could see a paw here, a leg there. Everybody was really surprised the bear was blown into so many pieces.”
A park ranger, who was on scene within 10 minutes, said the animal was about 400 or 500 pounds.
“He said, ‘Boy, you’re lucky; it was a good-sized bear.’”
Petkau wondered at the time whether it was being chased by something.
“It was on the run when it came up onto the road. It just grabbed another gear and kept going. It saw the semi; the semi was right there.”
He discounts the chase theory, however. Based on the bear’s size, he doesn’t know what could have intimidated it.
Petkau’s Audi was written off as a total loss. He is grateful he survived, and for the kindness of all those who witnessed the crash and helped him.
He says he has seen deer, moose and bear on the route before, but never in such a tight situation.
“I feel fairly fortunate I haven’t had wildlife encounters to this point. This one sure made up for it.”