Bear gave no reasons for concern before trainer’s death
BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. — The grizzly bear that wrestled Will Ferrell’s character in the recent film "Semi-Pro" seemed to obediently follow cues — which made its killing of its trainer with a bite to the neck all the more stunning.
Three experienced handlers were working with the grizzly Tuesday at the Predators in Action wild animal training center when the bear attacked Stephan Miller, 39, said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Beavers.
Stephan Miller is the cousin of training center owner Randy Miller, she said.
Pepper spray was used to subdue and contain the bear, and there were no other injuries, 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 during a training session on facility grounds, department spokesman Harry Morse told the San Bernardino Sun Tuesday.
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.
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 7 1/2 feet tall and weighs 700 pounds.
The site, which was off-line early 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.
Calls seeking comment from Randy Miller were not immediately returned Tuesday evening.
The center, located in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, has two grizzlies, and also trains lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and wolves for uses ranging from film and TV to advertising and education.
In a February interview, Randy Miller called Rocky "the best working bear in the business," the San Bernardino Sun 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.
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.