Grizzly Bear Kills Trainer; Was Seen as "Obedient"

Big Bear Lake, California
Associated Press
April 23, 2008

A grizzly bear killed a trainer Tuesday in California at a private facility for exotic animals. Animals trained at the facility have been used in National Geographic and Discovery Channel documentaries and the recent movie Semi-Pro, authorities said.

Three experienced handlers were working with the bear at Randy Miller's Predators in Action facility when the bear bit 39-year-old Stephan Miller on the neck, said San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. Stephan Miller is Randy's cousin, she said.

The center's staff used pepper spray to subdue and contain the bear, and there were no other injuries, she said.

A county fire-department traumatic-injury response unit responded at about 3 p.m. but could not revive Miller.

Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Phelps said the bear was a five-year-old male named Rocky. The Predators in Action Web site says Rocky is 7.5 feet (230 centimeters) tall, weighs 700 pounds (317 kilograms), and appeared in a scene in Semi-Pro, in which actor Will Ferrell's character wrestles a bear to promote his basketball team.

During the filming for Semi-Pro, the grizzly bear seemed to obediently follow cues—which made its killing of its trainer with a bite to the neck all the more stunning.

Calls seeking comment from Randy Miller, a stuntman and operator of Predators in Action, were not immediately returned Tuesday evening. Randy Miller doubled for Ferrell in the bear-wrestling match, according to the center's site.

The center, located in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, says it has two grizzlies. The center also trains lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, and wolves for film and TV as well as advertising and education.

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

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

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 wasn't immediately clear what would happen to the bear.

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.

California fish and game spokesperson Harry Morse told the San Bernardino Sun Tuesday his department would not decide whether the bear will be euthanized because the attack occurred outside its jurisdiction during a training session on facility grounds.

Morse speculated that the county animal care officials may decide the bear's fate. A call placed early Wednesday to the county's Animal Care and Control Program was not answered.

Richards, of the Moonridge Zoo, said, "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."

"It's still a wild animal. Even though it may appear that the bear attacked for no reason, there was a reason," she said.

"I'm sure Randy understands why it happened. They're not cold-blooded killers."

Native grizzly bears are extinct in California.

(See also "Recent Bear Attacks Are 'Freak Occurrences,' Experts Say" [April 24, 2006].)

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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