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Showbiz grizzly kills trainer-stuntman

The animal, seen in 'Semi-Pro,' was kept at site near Big Bear Lake.

April 23, 2008|Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writer

A 700-pound grizzly bear attacked and killed a Canyon Country man Tuesday at a compound near Big Bear Lake that trains wild animals for movies and television work, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said.

For unknown reasons, the bear lunged at 39-year-old Stephan Miller, a trainer at Randy Miller's Predators in Action, about 3 p.m. and bit him in the neck, said sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers.

Two other trainers subdued the 5-year-old, 7 1/2 -foot-tall grizzly with pepper spray and were unhurt, Beavers said. The Predators in Action website says the bear appears in the recent WiIl Ferrell movie "Semi-Pro."

Miller, cousin of Randy Miller, was pronounced dead at the scene, the sheriff's spokeswoman said.

Attempts to reach Randy Miller, who is also a stuntman, were not successful. The Predators in Action website says it has the "best trained grizzly bears in the business today."

Beavers said all three trainers were experienced.

They were working with the grizzly in a secured outdoor area when the attack occurred, she said.

She added that officials from Cal OSHA and the state Department of Fish and Game were investigating, and it was not immediately known what would happen to the bear.

Fish and Game spokesman Harry Morse said its patrol chief knew of no safety violations at Predators in Action. He said the department's main task with such companies is to make certain the animals are well treated.

"This is a commercial venture," he said of Predators in Action. "It's part of the entertainment industry."

Morse said a preliminary examination of the sprawling compound later Tuesday found nothing unusual.

He said he did not believe the department would take custody of the grizzly.

He also said he could recall no other fatal bear attacks in the state.

Grizzlies have been extinct in the California wild since the 1920s, Morse said.

Kevin Frey, a grizzly specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the bears can become agitated during training regimens that include repetitive actions. He said they can attack with surprising speed.

"They are so fast, they're phenomenal," Frey said.

The Predators in Action website says Rocky and a grizzly named Dakota "have worked on some of the wildest jobs ever done.

"They are world famous for wrestling scenes they have done in films and live shows. These bears are hard working and known for long runs, great action and staged attacks. They are good around people but can look extremely dangerous."

The website says Rocky is featured in a "Semi-Pro" bear-wrestling scene, "acting like a real fighter in the ring with thousands of people cheering." Randy Miller is a stunt double for Ferrell in the scene, it says.

Predators in Action also trains lions, tigers, leopards and cougars, and has a "perfect" safety record, according to the website.

"Our animals can be nice and gentle or have the appearance of being out of control," it says.

"We have learned how to do this safe and know this is the best way to get real action."

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paul.pringle@latimes.com

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