Debra Keefer of Enterprise was making a routine trip to La Grande recently when a cougar ran across the road in front of her vehicle on Hamburger HIll three miles south of Elgin.
The area is infamous for car versus wildlife collisions. Thick vegetation on both sides of the road make it difficult for drivers to see the animals before they bound onto the pavement.
“It happened so fast I couldn’t even imagine what I’d hit,” said Keefer.
The male cat, six foot long and 122-pounds, crossed two lanes and ran right in front of her vehicle.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t see him before I hit him or I would have swerved to miss him, and I would have gone right off that shoulder and rolled,” Keefer said.
Keefer was not injured in the accident.
Her vehicle, a 2017 Honda CRV with a sparse 7,000 miles on it, was taken to Shaw’s Auto Body in La Grande with $2,600 worth of damage to the front, she said. An Oregon State Trooper gave her a ride all the way back to Enterprise after the accident.
The cougar was killed by the impact, and Keefer said she believed it was instantaneous.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed that this is the third cougar killed on roadways this year. One was struck in August near the same location and another earlier in Ladd Canyon.
Both of the earlier cougar fatalities were smaller cats weighing only approximately 50 pounds. Fish and Game estimates three to four cougars a year are killed on roadways in Union County.
“It was just a shocking experience,” said Keefer. “You never see them, and then to hit one.”