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News Hounds, Others Tree Black Bear

Monrovia: Police, media, wildlife officials and neighbors are on hand in 14-hour standoff.

July 24, 2002|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 300-pound black bear who ambled down from the San Gabriel Mountains into a Monrovia neighborhood Tuesday probably only wanted some avocados from the trees and whatever a few trash cans might offer.

What he got instead was a 14-hour standoff with police and state Department of Fish and Game officials, a nose full of pepper spray, a tranquilizer dart in the neck, and as he wobbled and woozily collapsed in a backyard, several nips from an irate boxer named Butch.

On Tuesday evening, Billy the Bear, as the local children have named him, was loaded into the back of a Fish and Game pickup truck and hauled back into the mountains.

He was expected to wake up hours later with a headache from the tranquilizer but otherwise unharmed, officials said.

Monrovia police were first called about midnight.

The call was routine. It's bear season in Monrovia, and police say they field two or three calls each night. Officers went out and fired a few beanbags and some pepper spray, expecting the bear to high-tail it back to the mountains.

Instead, about 3 a.m., he climbed a towering tree at Mayflower Avenue and Hillcrest Boulevard. He stayed there for 14 hours.

At first, only a few police and Fish and Game officials kept watch. But soon, children, parents, and then a gaggle of television reporters joined the gathering.

As the afternoon wore on and the heat beat down, Billy came down a few times, but scooted back up when officers approached to shoo him toward the mountains.

"He's probably scared," said Nick Carbone, 14.

"I don't think he has a way down," worried his friend, James Elliot, 14, as the bear peered from the branches, panting in the heat and darting nervous glances at the cameras and guns trained on him.

But minutes later, about 5 p.m., Billy did descend. He slithered down the tree as gracefully as a 4-pound kitten, dropped to the ground and peered warily at the crowd. He carefully picked his way among shrubs and started to make a run for it across the driveway, apparently toward the mountain.

And then: Boom!

Officers fired a beanbag intended to spur him on. It had the opposite effect, and Billy was up the tree faster than most of the television cameras could follow his movements.

"We were hoping he wouldn't go up," said Monrovia Police Capt. Terry Dochnahl. "We're just trying to get him to run home."

At this point, officers tried a new tack. They began firing beanbag rounds at him in the tree.

Children gasped, and the bear began to moan softly and scramble from branch to branch.

"Awww, poor thing," said Cathy Bowlin. "I feel sorry for him."

Like most residents in the area, Bowlin has had her share of bear sightings. But she hasn't had the problem of some of her friends, whose trash cans were stolen almost nightly and carried into the hills until the owners figured out how to bolt them down.

Bears even have broken into a few houses this year, shattering windows and heading straight for refrigerators and food cupboards, Dochnahl said.

"They trash the house," he said. "And one thing they always do is leave their calling card, either on the Oriental carpet or on your favorite bedspread."

Monrovia seems to get more bear visits than other communities, Dochnahl said, perhaps because of its old-growth avocado trees and nearby watershed. Dochnahl said he was familiar with Monrovia's most famous bear, Samson. The "hot-tub bear," who died last year at the Orange County Zoo, gained international fame for frolicking in a Monrovia spa.

Like most things in Southern California, black bears aren't natives. In 1933, 27 black bears made the trip by truck from Yosemite to the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains, courtesy of the Department of Fish and Game. It is estimated that 400 now roam the Angeles National Forest. Officials said they try to avoid killing bears. Some that have repeatedly broken into houses have been euthanized, but others have been taken to remote locations.

In July 2001, a bear was killed after it bit a woman near La Verne, severely injuring her arm. In 1994, sheriff's deputies shot a bear 14 times when it wandered into a residential community in Azusa as children were headed to school.

But officials told children Tuesday as they waited for Billy to come down that the bear would not be harmed.

About 5:30 p.m., Billy came down again.

This time, he took off running. Police officers gave chase, shouting at residents as they ran.

"Folks, get back in your house right now!" yelled one officer.

Again, Billy confounded officers. Instead of returning to the mountains, he ducked into a construction site. Officers ran after him through several more backyards, and, as it became apparent that Billy intended to take this route and not the road back to the mountains, they decided to tranquilize him.

It took about five minutes for the sedative to take affect.

As Kevork Panossian walked into his backyard, the bear barreled toward him. Panossian's boxer nipped at the bear, who was too woozy to defend itself. Then Billy passed out, and officials loaded him onto the truck.

Panossian said it wasn't his first encounter. Friday night, he said, a bear walked onto his patio and grabbed a 25-pound bag of dog food. Taking a seat outside the family room, the bear ate the whole thing.

*

Times staff writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this story.

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