- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — The owner of a wild animal training center where a grizzly bear killed a handler says the animal is a “loving, affectionate, friendly, safe bear,” but he is at a loss to explain how a “simple routine” turned tragic.

In an emotional phone interview with the Associated Press late Wednesday, Randy Miller said he was overwhelmed with grief at the death of his cousin, Stephan Miller, who was killed Tuesday during the filming of a promotional video at Randy Miller’s Predators in Action center.

“It’s … killing me. We were brothers,” Mr. Miller said, close to tears.

Mr. Miller, who witnessed the attack, would not talk in detail about what happened, but he said the bear, a 5-year-old male named Rocky, was trained to wrestle with experienced handlers.

“It’s a playful behavior brought out on cue,” he said.

But when Rocky suddenly bit his cousin in the neck, “it hit him in a very vulnerable spot. If it had hit his arm or something, it would have been bad,” but wouldn’t have cost him his life, Mr. Miller said.

“It happened so fast,” he said. “We did what we had to do to stop the bear. It took a matter of seconds to get him off, but it was too late.”

Handlers used pepper spray to subdue the bear. Paramedics arriving shortly after the initial emergency call were unable to revive Stephan Miller.

A 911 recording documented desperate efforts to save him before paramedics arrived.

“He’s bleeding heavily from his neck. … We need someone here immediately,” a woman told the operator, who directed emergency procedures while determining the bear was contained.

Matt Wilson, 18, a neighbor who lives up a dirt road from the animal center, said Randy Miller went to Mr. Wilson’s family’s house after the attack for comfort. Mr. Miller told Mr. Wilson’s family that his staff had been filming an advertisement when the bear attacked.

“They were filming it and the bear started licking [Stephan Miller’s] face, and then all of a sudden, it just bit him,” Mr. Wilson said.

Randy Miller said he doesn’t know what will happen to Rocky, who has performed in commercials and recently appeared in the Will Ferrell movie “Semi-Pro.” In the meantime, the 700-pound, 7½-foot-tall bear remains in his cage.

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

State occupational safety officials are trying to determine whether they have jurisdiction, said Kate McGuire, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Industrial Relations.

The center had its permits and was up to code, said San Bernardino Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller, who is not related to Randy or Stephan Miller.

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

The remote Predators in Action campus is tucked off a private, dirt road high in the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains.

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