Pat Race was working at his computer in his downtown office in the Emporium Mall Wednesday when a coworker walked in and told him there was a bear in the alley.
Nothing about that was particularly out of the ordinary, especially for a local like Race, 34, who was born and raised in Juneau. Still, the website designer/video producer ventured outside with his coworker, Lou Logan, 31, who grabbed an HD Panasonic handheld video camera.
There, they found themselves just a couple of feet away from an adult male black bear, weighing some 250 pounds, that had managed to climb up several flights of stairs above the alleyway and onto the rooftop landings of the mall, which stretches from Franklin Street to Shattuck Way.
“There was just one guy standing there taking pictures of it, and he was sort of gawking and snapping pictures, and then pretty quick there were a lot more people,” Race said.
Logan had to leave and left the camera, which Race then picked up and began filming.
“I just started filming, and it was very interesting, and I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I wasn’t trying to capture anything in particular. I was just sort of filming what was happening.”
Race ended up filming the bear being shot with a tranquilizer dart in the face by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game official. The bear was ultimately euthanized by gun shot a short time later when officials realized it was the same bear that had been relocated into the wild earlier this summer. It had returned to the downtown area and had entered a yogurt shop and a grocery store’s parking lot last Friday. It was also seen atop of the Senate Mall building last week. Officials say it had become habituated to people and was food-conditioned.
The 10-minute video Race filmed shows a sliver of the bear’s curious personality as it sniffs out the urban landscape, balances on thin railings, jumps onto rooftops and scratches itself on the stairwell.
Race posted the video on YouTube, which instantly began garnering hits online. “Bear on a Wet Tin Roof” attracted about 2,388 views by Thursday evening.
“He seemed very casual and itchy, and he wasn’t in a hurry,” Race said. “He was just kind of being a bear.”
Race and about six to 12 other people who were inside the mall watched the bear from windows of the upstairs yoga studio (which had a class in session), a hallway near his second story apartment and even a women’s public restroom that overlooked the area. Only one other video of the bear surfaced, which was taken by Kathy Dye from the Sealaska Heritage Institute building across the street.
There was concern the bear would become aggressive since it was more or less boxed into a corner. Juneau Police Department Officer Tommy Penrose, tasked with keeping the bear in one spot until Fish and Game arrived on scene, stood at the bottom of the stairs and clapped loudly to keep it from coming back down and loping away before it could be captured.
Race said the bear would try to come down the stairs to the alleyway every 15 minutes or so, but the loud clapping noise kept it at bay and up on top the rooftop landing area.
The group of people watching the bear kept their distance, just in case.
“We weren’t anywhere that was really in danger,” Race said. “We were out of the way, the police officers knew we were there and we weren’t harassing the bear or anything. I was just kind of documenting.”
Race filmed the bruin for 40 to 60 minutes, although that was pared down for the online version of the film. It ends with authorities lifting the sleeping bear from a rooftop and carrying it down the stairs on a blue litter. It was loaded into the back of a flatbed truck and driven away for Fish and Game facilities.
“The whole time we’re worried he’s going to fall off (the ledge) but he actually went to sleep right there, and it didn’t seem like it was a very traumatic experience,” Race said during at interview Thursday at the location. “And then I ran around to my bedroom window and got some footage of them lifting it down. They dropped it over this ledge here and then they put it on a stretcher and carried it out on a stretcher.”
Race says he wasn’t surprised a bear would be attracted to that area — empty beer and liquor bottles and trash carpet the entire alleyway at the ground level underneath the metal grates, despite being cordoned off with a padlocked chain-link fence. Several candy wrappers were seen directly under the stairway near still wet paper bags and empty 40 ounce bottles of beer.
“Part of the reason the bear came here I think is because there’s always a lot of garbage from the winos,” he said. “People party back here all the time, so you can see all the beer cans and beer bottles and all this stuff down here and the glass in the alleyway. You can see why an animal might think there’s something to eat around here.”
The bear is depicted on film as a “lovable creature,” Race says, but he thinks Fish and Game made the right decision by euthanizing it.
“In that situation, you can go two ways: you can either try to scare the bear off and hope it doesn’t come back, or you can do something about it, and I think that they probably made the right decision,” he said. “If that bear is around people in that proximity there’s a great potential for some kind of physical confrontation, and I think they probably did what they had to do. And it’s really unfortunate, and it’s sad but that’s just kind of how it ended.”
Several news organizations have already contacted Race about obtaining and distributing his video, but Race says it’s doubtful it will help his already established career. But what it is, he says, is a bear story, which so many locals have, of his own.
“It was just that it was an opportunity to get some good footage of the bear being a bear, and so I did,” he said.
He added, “Lou picked up the camera and said, ‘Hey there’s a bear in the alley,’ and then he had to leave and so the camera was sitting there. So I picked it up and filmed a bunch of things. I’m glad I did it because it was really cool footage. It was neat to see, the bear had a lot of personality, and it was neat to capture that and share that story.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.