Animal Center Where Bear Killed Trainer Had Good Record

By: Gillian Flaccus AP
By: Gillian Flaccus AP

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) - The animal center where a grizzly bear killed its trainer in a videotaped attack had a good safety record, a state wildlife official said Wednesday.

The 700-pound bear seen in the recent Will Ferrell movie "Semi-Pro" killed Stephen Miller, 39, on Tuesday at Randy Miller's Predator's in Action Inc. facility in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Before the attack, the company or its owners had received only a single misdemeanor citation since it opened in 1991, said Harry Morse, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

"It's a clean facility as far as we're concerned," he said.

The lone citation was issued in 1999 after animal rights groups complained that owner Randy Miller had arranged to have another bear wrestle a man. He had received a permit from Los Angeles County officials for the exhibition but it still was a violation of state law.

Stephen Miller, the victim of the attack, was Randy Miller's cousin.

The attack took place during videotaping of a promotional video, Morse said.

A bear could be seen lounging in a small cage at the top of a narrow dirt road Wednesday at the center, located in an isolated area of the San Bernardino National Forest. In nearby cages, a lion sat on top of a wooden platform and a cougar and tiger paced in their enclosures.

The wooded campus was otherwise deserted and yellow police tape
cordoned off a large section of the ground.

Two women at the center's office declined to comment or give their names and asked a reporter to leave immediately.

Just up a rutted dirt road, Matt Wilson, 18, said Randy Miller came to his parents' house after the attack for comfort. Wilson said Miller told the family that they had been filming an advertisement when the bear attacked.

"They were filming it and the bear started licking his (the trainer's) face and then all of a sudden it just bit him," Wilson said. "He was just really upset and didn't know why it happened."

Pepper spray was used to subdue and contain the bear, and there
were no other injuries, San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman
Cindy Beavers said. Paramedics arriving shortly after the initial
emergency call around 3 p.m. were unable to revive Stephan Miller.

The Department of Fish and Game investigated the incident, but will not decide whether the bear will be euthanized because the attack occurred outside its jurisdiction on a private site, Morse said.

Morse speculated that the county animal care officials may decide the bear's fate. A call Wednesday seeking comment from the county's Animal Care and Control Program was not immediately returned.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire said that, since the attack occurred on private property and there was no public safety hazard or permit violation, it may be up to the bear's owners to decide its fate.

"They've had absolutely no problems with the bear in the past," she said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Phelps said the bear was a 5-year-old male named Rocky. The Predators in Action Web site said Rocky is 7½ feet tall and weighs 700 pounds.

The site, which was off-line Wednesday due to overtaxed bandwidth, identified Rocky as the animal that appeared with Ferrell's character in the scene from "Semi-Pro." Randy Miller doubled for Ferrell in the bear wrestling match, according to the site.

The center also houses two brown bears and a black bear, Morse said, along with various snakes and reptiles, an alligator, crocodile, leopard, a mountain lion, four African lions and four tigers, Morse said.

The animals are trained for uses ranging from film and TV to advertising and education.

Morse said it would be hard to guess why the bear attacked because its behaviors may not be those of a wild animal.

"When a bear is in a trained facility and it's been raised by people, we can't say why it would bite somebody or why it wouldn't," he said. "We can address what wild bears do. We can't address what would happen in these situations."

In a February interview, Randy Miller called Rocky "the best working bear in the business," The Sun of San Bernardino reported on its Web site Wednesday. But, the paper quoted him as saying, "If one of these animals gets a hold of your throat, you're finished."

Randy Miller has 25 years of experience training animals and his facility has had a perfect safety record, according to the site.

Randy Miller won a World Stunt Academy Award for his work wrestling tigers in the 2000 blockbuster "Gladiator" and performed stunts with his animals in films like "The Postman," "The Island of Dr. Moreau," and "The Last Samurai." He also helped recreate animal attacks for National Geographic documentaries and the Discovery Channel.

It was not immediately known how long Rocky has been at the facility.

The attack prompted actress Virginia McKenna, founder of the international wildlife charity Born Free, to call for the entertainment industry to stop using wild animals.

"The movie industry urgently needs to use its technological and creative imagination to put an end to the use of live wild animals in commercials and movies," McKenna said in a printed release.

Denise Richards, who works with wild animals at Moonridge Zoo, a
sanctuary for injured and homeless wildlife in nearby Big Bear Lake, said trained animals that turn on their handlers are often destroyed.

"You can train them and use as many safety precautions as you can, but you're still taking a chance if you're putting yourself in contact with them," Richards said. "It's still a wild animal. Even though it may appear that the bear attacked for no reason, there was a reason. I'm sure Randy understands why it happened. They're not cold-blooded killers."

Native grizzly bears are extinct in California.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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