Published April 23, 2008
BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. – A grizzly bear that appeared in a recent Will Ferrell movie killed a 39-year-old trainer with a bite to his neck Tuesday and had to be subdued with pepper spray.
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 about 3 p.m., but could not revive Miller.
The Department of Fish and Game will decide the bear's fate after an investigation, Tiffany Swantek, a spokeswoman for the Big Bear Sheriff's Station, told the San Bernardino Sun Tuesday.
Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Phelps said the bear was a 5-year-old male named Rocky. The Predators in Action Web site says Rocky is 7 1/2 feet tall, weighs 700 pounds and appeared in a scene in "Semi-Pro" in which Will Ferrell's character wrestles a bear to promote his basketball team.
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.
In a February interview, Randy Miller called Rocky "the best working bear in the business," the San Bernardino Sun reported on its Web site Tuesday.
In the same article, Randy Miller also said, "If one of these animals gets a hold of your throat, you're finished," according to the paper.
The center, located in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, says it has two grizzlies, and also trains lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and wolves for uses ranging from film and TV to 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.
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.