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Accounts of Bear Attack Conflict

Wildlife: The bite victim says officials scoffed at the danger posed by the young animal. They say she ignored safety instructions.


A La Verne woman recovering after her left forearm was bitten by a black bear at a county-run tree farm said she saw the animal moments before Sunday's attack, but a supervisor told her not to worry and called it by a nickname.

A rabies test on the bear, which was relatively small at 85 pounds, proved negative. The bear, which had wandered into an unincorporated area near La Verne, was shot and killed by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.

Barbara Morales, 32, was bitten shortly after noon Sunday at the tree farm where she was completing 10 days of court-ordered community service. Morales was treated at a hospital for several puncture wounds to her arm, which remains in a sling and, she said, could have long-term damage.

The incident, state Department of Fish and Game officials said, is a reminder that people should use caution if they encounter a bear.

Morales gave an account of the attack that conflicted with that of authorities. Morales said she was taking a break with another woman at a table about noon when she first saw the bear climbing on a nearby trash can, grabbing some food and dragging it off around a corner.

She said she ran into a building and told a supervisor, " 'There is a bear out there.' " Morales said the supervisor replied, " 'That's Cooly. Don't worry about it.' "

Morales said she returned to the table thinking it was safe and then suddenly the bear appeared at her side.

A supervisor at the farm told her, " 'Don't move at all,' " she said. "The bear came right up to me. He sniffed my hand and next thing he attacked me," Morales said. "He grabbed my arm like a pit bull and crushed it. I got my arm out and kicked the bear and I ran."

Morales, an emergency medical technician in Orange County, said, "I looked down and there was blood coming out. I put my hand over the wound to apply pressure."

However, tree farm officials gave a different account to authorities. Tom Loria, who manages the farm, said that after the bear was seen, the people performing community service were herded into a building by an official, but Morales did not stay inside.

"When you're told to be inside a building, you need to respond," he said.

After Sunday's attack, the bear was chased away by employees at the facility on Stephens Ranch Road.

Sheriff's deputies located the bear in a tree. The state Department of Fish and Game told sheriff's deputies that, because the bear had attacked and bitten a human, it would have to be destroyed. When the animal tried to come down, deputies shot it five times and it fell to the ground, dead.

Morales said she regrets that the bear was killed, but that the county Parks and Recreation Department, which runs the tree farm, should not have endangered people by having them work with a bear around.

"I am still in extreme pain. My arm is not broken, but it's crushed," she said. "I don't know if I'll be able to go to paramedics school. I am a single mother. I cannot work today and [am] not sure when I'll work."

Loria said the bear was first spotted at the farm about six weeks ago, searching for food. He said he contacted Fish and Game officials about relocating the animal and was sent a pamphlet on how to live around bears, giving such advice as cleaning up trash.

An examination of the slain bear, believed to be 1 to 2 years old, revealed its digestive system included a deer skull and several plastic bags. "That's a sign of a garbage bear," said Steve Martarano, a Fish and Game spokesman.

An easy meal from house, car or campsite is all it takes for a bear to learn that people and food go together, he said.

Bears are drawn to people when trash is poorly handled, when food is accessible and when people feed the animals, he said. "A fed bear is a dead bear," Martarano said. "I suspect someone in the area may have fed this bear."

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