Hollywood bear kills trainer

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image ap"><span>AP</span></div><span class="caption-text">Rocky the grizzly bear is seen at the Forever Wild animal sanctuary in Phelan, Calif. in Nov. 2007. The grizzly bear which appeared in a recent Will Ferrell movie killed a 39-year-old trainer with a bite to his neck Tuesday April 22, 2008 and had to be subdued with pepper spray. Three experienced handlers were working with the bear at Randy Miller&#39;s Predators in Action facility when the bear bit 39-year-old Stephan Miller on the neck, said San Bernardino County sheriff&#39;s spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. &#40;AP Photo&#47;Christina Bush&#41;</span></div>
April 23, 2008 6:08:09 PM PDT
When friends Linda Carter and Cherrie Giles booked a three-day retreat in a remote cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, the proprietor told them not to be startled by the roar of lions and bears from the exotic-animal training center nearby. The women fell asleep to the roars the first night, but on Tuesday they were startled by different sound - an urgent yell. About 30 minutes later, sirens wailed as paramedics rushed to an animal trainer who had been bitten on the neck by a 700-pound, 7½-foot-tall grizzly bear. Stephan Miller, 39, died at the scene.

On Wednesday, friends and neighbors tried to make sense of the attack, which from all accounts involved a well-trained and gentle bear and an experienced animal trainer.

"We heard a man yell; it was like he was yelling for help," Giles said of the attack. "We knew something was going on, but we didn't know what it was. Our dogs were going crazy."

Harry Morse, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, said Miller was killed by the 5-year-old bear during the making of a promotional video for Randy Miller's Predators in Action center. The bear's fate has not been decided.

The bear, named Rocky, recently appeared in the Will Ferrell sports comedy "Semi-Pro." Center owner Randy Miller, the victim's cousin, was a stunt double for Ferrell in a wrestling match with the bear. The center's animals have appeared in many other movies, documentaries and TV shows, including "Gladiator" and "The Last Samurai."

Ferrell's publicist, Matt Labov, said the actor was working on a film and was unavailable for comment.

The remote Predators in Action campus is tucked off a private, rutted dirt road high in the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains, a two-hour drive northeast of Los Angeles. Its only neighbors are a few vacation cabins and a campground.

Yellow police tape blocked the narrow trail leading to the animal cages on Wednesday.

From a distance, a bear could be seen lounging in a small cage at the top of the road, while a lion with a fluffy mane sat on top of a wooden platform and a cougar and tiger paced in their enclosures.

Two women at the center's office declined to comment or give their names and asked a reporter to leave immediately. Randy Miller did not return calls left on his cell phone.

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 they had been filming an advertisement when the bear attacked.

"They were filming it and the bear started licking his (Stephan Miller'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 state Department of Fish and Game investigated but will not decide whether the bear will be euthanized because the attack occurred outside its jurisdiction on a private site, Morse said.

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

The Sheriff's Department was conducting a death investigation, but it is not a criminal probe, said spokeswoman Jodi Miller, who is not related to Randy or Stephan Miller.

The center had its permits and was up to code, so it will be up to the owner to determine what becomes of the bear, the spokeswoman said.

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

Friends of the Millers praised Randy Miller as a top-class trainer dedicated to safety and the care of his animals. Stephan Miller was also an experienced trainer, said Chemaine Almquist, founder of an exotic animal center in Phelan called Forever Wild and a close friend of the Millers.

"He has a perfect safety record. He's always on the ball, making sure everything is extra safe," she said of Randy Miller. "He's always the one who says, 'You've got to do this, check the locks twice, you gotta wear pepper spray.' When I first found out, I was ready to throw up."

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. But the newspaper quoted him as saying, "If one of these animals gets a hold of your throat, you're finished."

Denise Richards, who works with wild animals at Moonridge Zoo, a sanctuary for injured and homeless wildlife at Big Bear Lake, said it was hard to know why Rocky attacked.

"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. ... They're not cold-blooded killers."

In 1999, Randy Miller came under fire from animal rights groups for arranging a wrestling match between an 800-pound Alaskan grizzly and a 290-pound weightlifter at a public event.

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Associated Press writers Robert Jablon, Raquel Maria Dillon and Sue Manning in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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