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Bad news for couple: Black bear shows up in northern Newton

COVINGTON -- Lake Stone Lea residents Charlie Attaway and his wife Hellen have joked for years about making it to safety without the bears getting them. After all, they live smack dab in the middle of the woods, and they're accustomed to seeing wild turkeys, deer, opossums and raccoons meandering through their property. But Tuesday night, a bear really did show up.

"I can truthfully say, we do have bears -- large, black bears -- here in Newton County," said Attaway, whose home is located between Macedonia Church Road and Ga. Highway 81.

He said about 10 p.m. Tuesday, his wife told him she heard a noise in the back yard.

"She said it was either an animal or a visitor," he said. "We turned on the outside lights and looked out the kitchen window. And there was a really, really large black bear just on the other side of the driveway. We have bird feeders out there and he was trying to get to the seed."

Attaway said he and his wife watched dumbfounded as the bear trashed the bird feeders -- one of which was more than six feet off the ground, which he grabbed easily -- until he apparently found the one he wanted. It had a large supply of sunflower seeds, on which he began to contentedly munch.

"He was really enjoying himself with a meal of sunflower seeds," Attaway said. "We decided we needed to report it because authorities like to keep up with sightings like this."

Hellen Attaway called 911, and when the Newton County Sheriff's Office deputy arrived and pulled into the driveway, the bear didn't let that distract him from his meal.

"He didn't make any attempt to run. The deputy sat there with the spotlight on the bear, still eating. After a minute or so, he wandered off into the woods," Attaway said.

Only then did the deputy exit his vehicle and confirm that the Attaways had definitely seen what they thought they had seen.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Ranger Larry Mills was notified and was also at the property within a matter of minutes, but there was no sign of the bear at that point.

"We went into the woods looking for signs, but couldn't find anything," Attaway said.

The ranger told the Attaways to refrain from feeding the birds for a few weeks and they should make sure no pet food was left unsecured.

"Larry (Mills) seems to think it's a loner bear and he said they're travelers and opportunists and can cover a lot of ground in one night," Attaway said. "He said we'd probably never see it again."

Attaway said he was told that there had been no other sightings or reports in Newton County and the bear could have ventured up from Middle Georgia or even come down from North Georgia.

All he knows is he and his wife won't be joking about bears anymore.

"We both have shops in the back yard and sometimes she will come in the house after I'm already inside. And it's always been a joke ... I'll say, 'I see you made it in without the bears getting you,' or 'I guess you got safely through the gate without any bears grabbing you,'" Attaway said with a laugh. "It's gone from a joke to a reality. We're both going to be concerned about whether the bear is still around here."