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Canyon Country Animal Trainer Dies Of Bear Bite

Other trainers come to defense of bear, deny that incident was attack.

 

A Canyon Country man died Tuesday when a grizzly bear he was training bit him on the neck at a compound in Big
Bear Lake.

Stephan Miller, 39, a trainer at Predators In Action, had several years experience working with wild animals used in the entertainment industry.

He was working with Rocky, a 5-year old bear that stood 7 1/2 feet tall and weighed 700 pounds when the bear unexpectedly bit him on the neck, severing his jugular vein and causing his death.

Rocky had recently been featured in the Will Ferrell movie “Semi Pro,” in a scene where Ferrell wrestles the bear to drum up business for his basketball team. Miller’s cousin Randy, the owner of the compound, doubled for Ferrell in the fight scenes.

Sue DiSesso, a former animal trainer who worked with her late husband, Moe, handling bears and other wild animals for the movies, said that it’s important to remember wild animals are still wild, no matter what man may teach him to do.

“It wasn’t an attack, it was a bite,” she said. “Anyone who has worked with bears knows this. If it had been anywhere else on the body, it would have been a stitch or two and go back to work. Animals bite, that’s what they do.”

DiSesso remembed Stephan from the network of animal trainers who often worked together on projects.

“He raised that bear, that bear wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. Everybody in the business is so shook up about this, it’s a real tragedy.”

She said that the president of an animal handlers association sent out an e-mail to trainers in the area talking about the incident, reminding them that lethal risk is part of the job.
”I want to remind everyone that this could have happened to any one of us,” she paraphrased. “In our work, there is little that lies between a good day and a horrifying day.”

“This bear was not being vicious, he was just being a bear,” DiSesso concluded.