Saturday, July 17, 2004

He killed bear, now defends self

Wildlife agency takes animal's side

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

MAYKING, Ky. - Terry Brock walked out his back door early one morning and came face to face with a black bear.

Startled, the Letcher County man jumped back inside, asked his wife to call the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife for help, and began banging on the wall of his mobile home, hoping the noise would frighten the wild animal away from his terrified dogs and horse.

When that didn't work, Brock, 36, of Mayking, said he grabbed an heirloom rifle and fired.

Now, Brock faces a criminal charge of illegally killing the bear on June 2, and the local prosecutor is left with a case that could test how jurors in eastern Kentucky perceive the shooting of black bears in residential areas.

"The jury would have to decide whether this person acted in a criminal nature," said Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling. "There's a big difference in killing something for sport, and killing something if the person thought his life or his livestock was in danger."

One other such case is pending in Knox County, where a man allegedly killed a bear in his garden because it continued coming toward him after he fired a warning shot.

Black bears thrived in the area more than 100 years ago, before logging and over-hunting led to their disappearance. Over the past 20 years, they have been venturing back into Kentucky from forests in Virginia and West Virginia. Now, for the first time in more than a century, Kentucky has a self-sustaining black bear population and residents of the mountainous region along the state's eastern border are having to learn to live alongside them.

Brock, who has pleaded not guilty to illegally killing the bear, said he couldn't believe he was accused of a crime.

"The bear was taking swipes at our dogs," he said. "I thought our horse might break a leg trying to get out of his stall. The kids were going to pieces."

In the chaos, Brock said he grabbed the 30-30 caliber rifle and stepped back outside in time to see the bear to stand erect.

"I had always heard that they were ready to attack when they did that," he said. "So I shot it."

Bolling said more details about the case will come out in a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Letcher County District Court.

Mark Marraccini, spokesman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said conflicts between bears and people would be unlikely if people stopped leaving food or household garbage where bears can get it.

"It's not legal to kill bears in Kentucky," Marraccini said.

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