Kennewick police Detective Kirk Nebeker was on his way to work early Monday when he spotted something across the highway.
Ever the cop, Nebeker admits that he’s always looking for something out of place.
He circled around to the westbound lanes of Highway 240 and stopped between the Columbia Park golf course and Edison Street.
His eyes had not deceived him.
On the grassy shoulder of the Kennewick highway was a dead cougar.
Nebeker, an avid outdoorsman and veteran criminal investigator, says the wild cat was hit by a vehicle and estimates it had been dead for about an hour.
He said it was a young adult about 2 years old.
“It was kind of neat. You don’t get to see that everyday,” Nebeker told the Tri-City Herald. “They are really cool creatures.”
The off-duty officer called non-emergency dispatchers at 7:14 a.m. and asked them to notify the Washington State Patrol and state Fish and Wildlife officials.
Nebeker also snapped a few pictures.
Then, since the carcass was off the side of the road and not posing a hazard to other drivers, he got back in his car and went to work.
WSP Trooper Chris Thorson confirmed that his office was notified about the dead animal, and dispatchers notified the Department of Transportation to have the carcass picked up.
No one reported hitting a large animal on Monday, he said.
Reports of the sighting gained traction after Nebeker posted the pictures on his personal Facebook page.
The detective said as word got around his office, some colleagues told him they had received recent reports about a live cougar along Columbia Park Trail. He believes the dead cat is likely the same one.
“I know a lot of people don’t realize that anywhere there is deer, there can and will eventually be cougars,” he said.
Officers often run into huge bucks in Columbia Park’s wooded areas when responding to calls about homeless camps. He said most of the time people don’t see a cougar nearby because “they’re like ghosts.”
“If people are worried about a cougar stalking around that area, with their pets or young kids going down to fish or something, for me I would think it’s a little peace of mind ...,” Nebeker said. “This is one less cougar we have to worry about grabbing a kid.”
Nebeker is aware that some have made jokes on social media linking the the dead animal to Washington State University football’s stunning upset Saturday. Cougars lost 63-67.
He said he is a fan of Brigham Young University — home to Cosmo the Cougar — and his team also lost this weekend to University of Washington.
The Tri-Cities area is no stranger to cougar sightings, though more often in the spring.
People took to social media in early March 2018 to report seeing a suspected cougar not far from Badger Mountain. Then in May and in August 2018, people spotted the animals in the area of Leslie Canyon.
State biologists say cougar sightings in populated areas are usually brief as the big cats travel through the area, and attacks on humans are rare.
If a cougar approaches, the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends keeping your eyes on the animal while making yourself appear larger while backing away slowly. Do not try to run because they may mistake you for prey, such as a deer.