PROVO The pain of losing a child is indescribable, but it's worse for the parents of 11-year-old Samuel Ives, who believe that had federal and state agencies been more responsive to a bear encounter last summer, their son would still be alive.
"Trying to be a family again is just excruciating," said Ives' stepfather, Tim Mulvey, shaking his head. "It's seemingly impossible."
The family knows a lawsuit won't bring their son back, nor will it speed the healing process, but perhaps it can prevent something like this from happening again.
"If there wasn't an attack the night before, we wouldn't be here arguing it," said Kevan Francis, Ives' natural father. "We know bears exist, but if there's a shark attack at a beach, they close the beach."
The family announced Friday they are suing the U.S. government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service for $2 million, as well as the state of Utah and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for an unspecified amount, saying that state and federal officials knew about a bear encounter with humans and searched for the bear but failed to close the area until the animal could be found.
The family hopes they can bring about some type of nationwide "Sam Alert," meaning once a bear takes food from campers and becomes a "Level III nuisance bear," no more campers would be allowed in the specific area and that surrounding campers would be warned, said Allen K. Young, the family's attorney.
"It's very, very simple," Young said. "Close the campground. If there's a nuisance bear, it's very predictable that the bear is going to come back."
Rebecca Ives, Samuel's mother, considers herself an experienced camper and has been camping in American Fork Canyon all her life. She and Tim Mulvey know there are bears in that area and took the proper precautions.
"We cleaned the site before we went to bed," she said. "We've been to Yellowstone (National Park). We know you don't leave food out."
Jake Francom had camped in that same spot, just a mile above the established Timpooneke campground, Friday night with some friends but awoke early Saturday morning when something outside the tent kept bumping his head.
He finally realized it was a bear and yelled for everyone to get out of the tent just as the bear ripped through the side and bit Francom's pillow. As soon as Francom got out of the canyon, he called officials and made a report.
Utah and U.S. agents agreed the bear had become a "Level III nuisance bear" and agreed to euthanize it.
But after a few hours of unsuccessful searching for the bear, officials gave up around 4 p.m. because it was Father's Day weekend and left the area without warning anyone, Young said.
Ives and his family went up there that evening, passing by the main entry gate and DWR officers on the road who simply waved to them. There was never a mention of a bear encounter.
Ives was dragged out of the tent sometime before midnight, and his family initially thought he had been abducted because the slash in the tent didn't look like a claw mark. They called 911 and frantically searched in the darkness.
Rebecca Ives said the first thing responding officers did was mark off the area.
"They got out yellow tape and taped off the entire camp site and took us out of it. Why wasn't that done (before)?" she asked. "We would have known something there was up if there was just yellow tape, a piece of plastic. And I would still have my son."
The State's Division of Wildlife Resources knows about the lawsuit but hadn't seen it as of Friday afternoon, so they couldn't comment, said Dean Mitchell, conservation outreach section chief for the DWR.
But that doesn't mean their office hasn't often reflected over the events of last June the first-ever human death from a bear in Utah.
"The Division of Wildlife Resources continues to send our condolences to the family of Samuel Ives," Mitchell said. "This was a very, very tragic event."
There are around 4,000 to 5,000 black bears in Utah, Mitchell said, and last year sightings were especially high because a new batch of young cubs were out looking for their own territory. This summer's sightings should be fewer, but Mitchell added they still encourage caution and education for all back-country enthusiasts.
Loyal Clark, spokeswoman for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests, said their federal office hasn't received the lawsuit and also couldn't comment.
"We want it to be a completely fair and unbiased process and don't want to compromise that in any way," she said.
In the meantime, Rebecca Ives, Mulvey and Francis are still struggling to cope. Ives' 7-year-old brother Jack didn't attend the news conference Friday, but his parents have filed the suit on his behalf as well, alleging that he has lost the love, affection, support and companionship of his brother and that he has suffered mental anguish from having witnessed the event.
Tim Mulvey's voice cracked as he talked about their young son, left without an older brother."(Jack's) hero isn't here anymore," he said.
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