Deadly bear attack in Groom Creek near Prescott: Necropsy conducted, results announced

A 66-year-old man died after being mauled by a black bear in an "exceedingly rare" attack in a community south of Prescott, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.

The attack happened in the Groom Creek area on the morning of June 16, and authorities believe it was unprovoked. 

The victim, Steven Jackson, was building a cabin at the time. He was sitting in a chair on his property when he was attacked by an adult male bear, according to Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes.

"Neighbors responded they heard him yelling, calling for help, they tried to get the bear to stop attacking him," said Sheriff Rhodes.

Rhodes says the bear "was in the process of consuming him" before a neighbor shot and killed the animal.

"We have no other information that there are [other] aggressive animals or bears in the area," Rhodes said.

The sheriff noted that residents cannot shoot bears unless they pose a threat to themselves or others.

Chris Heibert, who works in the area, said he saw a similar-looking black bear searching through trash cans on the night of June 15 and caught a video of the bear.

"[It] seemed pretty normal. Pretty skittish, and kind of scared of me," said Heibert.

Officials with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish say they are not able to confirm if the bear in Heibert's video is the same bear.

According to Arizona Game and Fish, it's common to have bear sightings in some parts of the state, but it's "very unusual" to see an attack.

There were no signs of reckless feeding or food being left in the area, but the case is still under investigation.

The last deadly bear attack occurred in 2011 in the Pinetop area. This is the 15th attack since the late 1980s.

Bear didn't have rabies, Arizona Game and Fish says

Officials say the bear appeared to be in good health before it was shot. A necropsy performed on the bear showed the animal was between 7 and 10 years old, weighed 365 pounds, had no signs of disease, and did not have rabies.

"AZGFD officials believe this bear acted in what appeared to be an unprovoked predatory attack by the animal," the agency said in a statement. "Bears are predators, and when acting aggressively toward humans can attack, injure and kill."

The bear’s brain stem was tested for rabies at the state Department of Health Services state laboratory. Arizona has recorded only one case of a bear having tested positive for rabies, in 1971.

It took a total of five Arizona Game and Fish employees, the veterinarian and four assistants, to conduct the examination of the bear,

"A big male bear like this by all indications, a very healthy individual. So it was not a bear struggling to make a living in the wild, so by all appearances, it’s an unprovoked attack," Dr. Larisa Harding, Arizona Game and Fish Program Manager said.

They don’t believe hunger was the bear’s motivation for the deadly attack.

"We did find within the stomach of the bear, tissues consistent with Mr. Jackson’s injuries. We also found in the stomach normal black bear foods. Vegetation, seeds, that we’d normally see a bear feeding on," said Dr. Anne Justice-Allen, Arizona Game and Fish wildlife veterinarian.

The bear has not been tested for any illegal substances.

"There’s no indication this bear was under the influence of any kind of substance. The tissue samples we sent to the lab will tell us if there are any other diseases present," Justice-Allen said.

The bear’s cause of death was the gunshot wounds it sustained after a neighbor shot it while trying to save Jackson.

"Tragic for the family and I hate to see any bear suffer like this," Harding said. "I don’t make light of the family’s suffering, but I hate to see a bear that was not acting as a normal black bear. That causes me concern."

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

Safety tips

Some safety tips to avoid run-ins with wildlife, according to Arizona Game and Fish:

  • Don't feed wildlife
  • Don't leave food inside vehicles
  • Store garbage in bear-proof containers
  • Feed pets inside or remove uneaten pet food
  • Remove brush and cover around homes and corrals
  • Install outdoor lighting
  • Supervise children
  • Keep pets indoors, in a fenced yard or on a leash

Tips for bear encounters:

  • Never approach a bear
  • Stay calm and continue to face it
  • Raise your arms and stand tall to appear dominant
  • Yell and make loud noises with whistles, blaring music or pots and pans
  • Don't stimulate a bear's chase instinct by running
  • Protect small children so they won't back away and run
  • Slowly back away from the area
  • If attacked, fight back

Where the reported attack happened: