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Bear kills 11 year old boy during camping trip

Government Failed To Warn Campers Even After Receiving Reports of Aggressive Bear In Area

The family of  a boy killed by a  bear has been awarded $1.95M for wrongful death against the U.S. Forest Service.  On June 17, 2007, the boy Samuel Ives, 11, was camping with his mother, brother and stepfather at a remote camping site in American Fork Canyon in the Uinta National Forest.

Prior to the arrival of Samuel’s family, a man and his friends were camping at the dispersed camping area, approximately 1.2 miles above the Timpooneke Campground. (A dispersed camping area is outside of a designated campground and has no water or bathroom facilities.) Although it was a dispersed area, it had a fire pit, log bench, a flat area for tents and room for a car to pull off the road.

Early in the morning of June 17, the man was attacked by a bear while he was sleeping in his tent. He yelled to his friends in other tents to get a gun and they were able to scare the bear away with pistol shots and by throwing rocks at it. The man subsequently reported the bear attack to Utah County Dispatch at 9:25 am. The dispatcher who took the call told the man that she would notify the Forest Service and told him to also call highway patrol, which he did. As a result, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources was notified about the incident.

The Division of Wildlife Resources has a three-level classification system for bears that constitute a threat to the public. At approximately 10 am, it classified the bear that made the attack as Level III, which requires bears that have displayed aggressive behavior toward humans and show no fear be destroyed because of their risk to public safety.

The Division of Wildlife Resources searched for the bear until approximately 5 pm that day with the intention of returning the next morning. However, that evening, after the search ended for the day, Samuel’s family arrived at the same campsite as the bear attack. They had originally planned to camp at Timpooneke Campground, but they didn’t have the $13 fee and asked if they could camp up the road. They were told it was okay.

After the family went to bed at around 9 pm. Samuel slept in the smaller compartment of the tent and his brother, mother and stepfather stayed in the larger section. That night, a black bear pulled Samuel from the family tent and killed him. His body was found approximately 400 yards away from the campsite.

Samuel’s biological parents, Kevin Francis and Rebecca Ives, acting individually and as the natural parents of Samuel, sued the United States of America under the Federal Torts Claims Act. They alleged that their son’s death was caused by the negligence of the employees of the United States Forest Service since it was responsible for managing Timpooneke Road 056 and the campsites along that road.

The plaintiffs claimed that the Forest Service employees were aware of the presence of a dangerous bear in the area and were negligent in failing to close the remote camping site. They also claimed that the employees were negligent in failing to warn of the presence of a dangerous bear. The family testified that had there been a warning, they would not have camped at the site of the prior bear attack, or anywhere near it.

Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that earlier in the day, a bear had aggressively opened coolers, found food, slashed through a camper’s tent and struck a camper in the head before being chased off. They also contended that Samuel’s family was not informed of this incident.

Plaintiffs’ counsel presented evidence that after the dispatcher was contacted about the prior bear attack, she reported the incident to United States Forest Service law enforcement officer Carolyn Gosse. Gosse then told the dispatcher that she would let her district know, but that she was not on duty and it would be impossible for her to find someone to watch her children that day. Gosse ultimately failed to contact anyone or take any action in response to the reported bear attack on the morning of June 17. As a result, no other Forest Service employee knew about the incident and no action was taken to warn potential campers. Gosse was subsequently terminated from her job based in part on her conduct in this incident. Employee regulation states she should have returned to duty due to a compelling reason.

Gosse’s supervisor testified that had Gosse told him about the bear attack, he would have warned potential campers about the danger. A Forest Service District Ranger for the area also testified that a warning could easily have been placed on the gate at the head of Timpooneke Road 056 or the area been closed off.

The court ruled that based on testimony, the plaintiffs convincingly demonstrated that the bear that killed Samuel was the same bear that had attacked the other campers earlier in the day.

The United States denied its employees were negligent in the manner alleged by plaintiffs or that any act of omission of its employees caused Samuel’s death.

Defense counsel argued that there were already notifications posted in the area warning of bears in the area. They also contended that there were postings warning campers to store food in cars or high in a tree away from sleeping areas, but that Samuel’s family was negligent for leaving food out. Defense counsel further contended that Samuel’s drank some beer and that government officials testified she smelled of alcohol. However, the court found that the mother’s alcohol consumption was irrelevant.

In addition, defense counsel contended that the United States is immune from suit under the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claim Act.

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