Bear leads police on hunt

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By Mark Wineka and Karissa Minn
EAST SPENCER — Spencer, the black bear — he earned that name Tuesday — has now hoofed it across three municipalities and spent considerable time resting Tuesday night in trees outside homes near the post office.
Late Tuesday night, he (or she) was on the move again, as East Spencer law enforcement and firefighters hoped to direct him toward toward the Yadkin River, on advice of state wildlife officers.
The bear’s considerable size has surprised people who’ve seen him, as he made a trek Tuesday through Spencer and across the railroad tracks into East Spencer, where he took roost for more than an hour in a large tree off Spencer Street.
Hence, the name for now.
The bear hit the ground again at 9:42 p.m. and rumbled through the back yards of Spencer Street homes until he went up another tree. As of 10:30 p.m, the bear was down from the second tree and moving toward the East Spencer Town Hall, with police officers and firefighters trying to monitor his escape route through the mostly residential town.
East Spencer Police blocked entry to Spencer Street from North Long Street while the bear was in the trees.
“Everybody’s been warned to stay in until we give them the OK,” said East Spencer Alderman John Noble, who also is a retired member of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
Noble and Police Chief Floyd Baldo were just leaving from a town board meeting when they got the news.
“A civilian stopped me (on Long Street) and said there’s a bear in that tree,” Baldo said.
The chief called the Rowan County communications systems to ask for animal control assistance or counsel from state wildlife officers.
The latter advised a low-key, non-aggressive approach in hopes the bear would come down and be steered north, Baldo said.
He was able to get a close look at the bear — and take photographs — while it was in the tree outside a Spencer Street home.
Once the bear was down from the tree, firefighters were shining spotlights and sounding quick bursts of sirens in hope of sending him in another direction.
“He’s about 250 pounds,” Noble guessed.
“He’s a good size,” Baldo added.
Baldo said it was a tough situation for his department. Officers didn’t want to harm the bear, but they also were concerned about it running loose in residential neighborhoods.
A tranquilizer gun had been discussed Tuesday night as a possible option.
The bear was seen foraging in a dumpster near Woodleaf Road in Salisbury Monday night and apparently made its way through the town of Spencer on Tuesday.
Billy Watkins, a Spencer resident, reported seeing the bear on West 16th Street near South Salisbury Avenue about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Watkins said he lost sight of the bear when it ran behind his pickup, but he spotted it again in the driveway of a house on West 17th Street around noon.
“It just blowed my mind when I seen that bear,” Watkins said. “I didn’t know how dangerous it was.”
Bob Gobbel, who lives at 202 W. 17th St., said he noticed Watkins watching the animal from a pickup just before seeing the bear move along the street, cross it and amble through his own property.
“It just walked right across the yard and went back in the back,” he said, pointing northeast. “It was a good-sized bear.”
Gobbel said he went inside to get his .45-caliber pistol to scare it off — “You can’t shoot him; I was just going to shoot the air.” — but when he came back out, the bear was already gone.
This is the second bear Gobble has seen in the area, he said, and the first was a long time ago. Gobble said he more often sees bobcats around the “Spencer Woods,” referring to the 40-acre patch of undeveloped land near his home.
His wife, JoAnn, said she was disappointed she missed the bear by mere minutes while coming home from the grocery store.
“I just would have liked to have seen it … I would be afraid if it came toward me, but out in the street it wouldn’t bother me,” she said. “But I can talk tough because I wasn’t here.”
The bear had apparently wandered a few miles from the spot northwest of Salisbury where it was sighted Monday night, roughly following the path of Grant’s Creek.
Police got a call just before 8 p.m. Monday reporting that a black bear standing about 6 feet tall was inside a dumpster at Holly Leaf Apartments, located in the 2200 block of Woodleaf Road in Salisbury. When police responded, they saw the bear alongside the road.
Sgt. Mark Hunter said Monday that the animal is likely looking for food, and it will move on from the area once it finds nothing more to eat.
He said anyone who sees the bear should avoid it and leave it alone, because it won’t hurt people unless aggravated.
Hunter said police do not plan to take aggressive action. They will take no action at all unless the bear becomes aggressive toward humans, he said.
Wildlife officials told police that there is no need to call out a biologist to sedate the animal with tranquilizers unless it becomes a danger.
In June 2007, a Thomasville police officer shot and killed a black bear that had been tracked through Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Rowan and Davidson counties.
The officer, Sgt. Donnie Rowe, said at the time that police had little choice when “Boo Boo” — as the bear became known — wandered into a backyard where children were playing next door. The department didn’t have a tranquilizer gun.
Black bears are not likely to attack people, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and there has not been an unprovoked bear attack in North Carolina. But frequent contact with humans can cause bears to become more bold and visible around them.
“Black bears tend to be shy and non-aggressive toward humans,” the commission says on its website. “However, if frequently fed, bears may become dependent on human foods, which may lead to increased interaction with people.”
Garbage, food scraps and pet food should be kept indoors when possible, the state Wildlife Resources Commission says, and grills should be kept lean of food and grease. Residents in the area of a bear sighting also are advised to take down bird feeders while the animal is around.
If you see a bear
• Try to stay calm.
• Don’t run away. Make the bear aware of your presence speaking in an assertive voice, clap your hands, wave your arms above your head to try to make yourself look bigger and make a lot of noise.
• Back up and slowly walk away.
• Keep children nearby.
• Keep pets locked up.
• Do not approach a bear.
• Never surround or corner a bear.
• If you happen to meet a bear at close range, back away slowly and make lots of noise.
• Never feed bears or any wild animals, even if they look hungry or tame.
• Take extra precautions not to feed bears accidentally — bears are attracted to garbage, food scraps, pet food and many other forms of human food. Keep such foods locked away from bears in strong, safe places.
• Bears that wander into a residential area are sometimes frightened by dogs or residents and climb trees. Keep people away from the scene and the bear will come down and leave when it no longer feels threatened (often after dark).
N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission.

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