Siskiyou County Sheriff Sergeant Karl Houtman shot dead a young bear behind Penny's Diner in Dunsmuir early Thursday morning. The bear was killed by a single shot from the officer's rifle, an act witnessed by restaurant cook Robby Graves.

Sergeant Karl Houtman shot dead a young bear behind Penny's Diner in Dunsmuir early Thursday morning, according to the Siskiyou County Sheriff''s office dispatch later that day. The bear was killed by a single shot from the officer's rifle, an act witnessed by restaurant cook Robby Graves.

Graves stated that the bear had just frightened a customer. “At 1 a.m. a customer picked up an order to go,” he said. Immediately after, the phone rang. “He called on his cell phone. He said a bear chased him to his car. He was scared, panicking.”

Graves said Houtman came in about an hour later, and asked him if he had any problems with bears. Said Graves, “I told him what happened.” He added that was when Houtman told him that the night before officers had seen a bear trying to get in the back door of the diner.

Contacted by phone Monday, Houtman described that incident, the night before the shooting. “I was in the restaurant with deputy Jeremiah LaRue,” he said. “There was a bear sitting at the rear door.” He said that when they walked up to the door, the bear put its paw on the glass door.

“So I kicked the door real hard and yelled, and it didn't go away immediately,” he said. “It hung out around the tables there. When we came out the door, it walked over to the dumpster. I never saw that bear run.”

Houtman said they left the bear in the dumpster behind the diner. The next day he called the Department of Fish and Game and told them about the bear's behavior. He reported that they told him since the bear was frequenting the dumpster, and since it showed no fear of humans, it would have to be destroyed.

“But only if we got another call,” stressed Houtman. He said after hearing the Graves’ account, he checked in with the office. “My dispatcher said they got a call from a customer who had been frightened by a bear in the parking lot,” he said.

According to Graves, the two of them stepped outside and saw the bear near the dumpster. First, Houtman tried to scare it away. “He drove his car at it, shining his spotlight at it,” said Graves. “It ran up the hill a little ways.”

But as soon as Houtman parked his car and turned off the light, the bear started back down to the hill towards the dumpster. Said Graves, “That's when he picked up his rifle.”

Armed, the officer tried one last time to scare it away. “I ran toward it on foot and it moved up the hill,” said Houtman. “But it came back down and sat on the retaining wall over the parking lot. The dirt bank was a perfect backdrop.”

He then fired a single shot from his .223 rifle. “Killed it instantly,” he said.

Houtman estimated the age of the bear at about two years. “It was very skinny, between 125 and 150 pounds in weight, probably malnourished,” he said. He also said that even a bear that small could be dangerous.

He explained, “The problem is getting between a wild animal and its food source. And the food source is in the parking lot.” He added that, in general, people should never feed or approach a bear. “People need to keep garbage out of the smell and reach of bears,” he said.

Graves reported the bear had appeared regularly around the dumpster at night for the past week or so. He said that Wednesday night the bear was in the trash from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. “A long time,” he emphasized. “The bear showed no fear whatsoever.”

He once tried to photograph it with his cell phone. “It came down the hill toward me,” he said. He ducked back into the diner. “I've seen too many videos on the Nature Channel,” he laughed nervously. “Those things move fast!”

 For information on how to live safely with bears, visit the California Department of Fish and Game website at www.dfg.ca.gov.