Shotgun round fired at bear, ricochets bruises bystander's belly

A shotgun round fired by Seward police to kill a black bear Thursday night pierced the animal, ricocheted and hit a bystander in the abdomen, police say.

The bear died.

The person? Merely bruised, City Manager Phillip Oates said Friday. "It didn't even penetrate the skin. ... We're very lucky in that case."

The encounter was the first of at least three bear sightings in Seward that night. The city's swarming with them, residents said.

Thursday's trouble began with reports of a black bear near the small boat harbor at about 10 p.m., according to Seward police. Officers tried and failed to shoo the bear away, police said.

A crowd gathered and the bear, which apparently had been hiding, ran out, Oates said.

Police shot it once with a shotgun. Soon it was running again, Oates said.

The second shot killed the animal but the round didn't stop there.

"I think it went through his ear and maybe out one side of his head. And then, like I say, it ricocheted off something and then hit the bystander," Oates said.

Oates wasn't at the scene, he said, but received a report on the shooting. The chief of police couldn't be reached for comment Friday and an employee at the police department said no one was available to talk about the encounter.

The city manager said he didn't know the identity of the young man hit by the slug. Police didn't identify the victim in a brief news release describing what happened.

Oates said the man, who had been standing about 125 feet away at the time of the shooting, was examined and released from Providence Seward Medical Center.

The department's statement said police fired on the bear for public safety reasons.

"I think they had full cause to shoot the bear, because they were very, very concerned about the actions of the bear and the threat to people down there," Oates said.

One police officer said he saw as many as seven bears while on patrol on a recent night in Seward, Oates said.

Seward Mayor Willard Dunham hadn't heard about the shooting Friday but said this is an "unbelievable" year for bear traffic in the Kenai Peninsula city of 2,600 people.

One's been hanging around his house, he said. It's got three legs and runs off when it sees people.

"He's a cutie," Dunham said.

Others are getting bold, according to police.

After shooting the bear by the boat harbor, police fielded two more bear calls Thursday night, the department says. According to a statement from police, one bear damaged a screen door, while another "entered a residence to eat the dog's food."