Seafood worker reflects on gunshot graze

Posted: Tuesday, September 07, 2010

ANCHORAGE - When Evan Toloff dressed for his shift at Captain Jack's Seafood Locker, he had no idea that the clothes he pulled on, the two heavy sweat shirts and rain gear, would end up protecting him from anything more than water and cold. Perhaps they even saved his life.

Toloff, 19, is a commercial fisherman who works at Captain Jack's during the off-season, vacuum-packing, sealing and freezing fish.

On Aug. 26, he was working the line. It was a typical shift, until around 10 p.m. when co-worker mentioned that police were outside with shotguns, ready to shoot a bear. The line stopped and employees surged toward the door, gathering in the parking lot by the Subway shop.

"Sure enough we saw a bear coming from across the street and the cops were chasing it around the building," Toloff said.

When they realized that the officers had guns and that they might be in the way, everyone except for one co-worker made their way back toward Captain Jack's.

"As we were walking back, the officer yelled, 'Get back inside the restaurant,' and every just ran," Toloff said.

He ended up in the doorframe of Captain Jack's, where he watched as the bear headed toward the officer. A moment later he heard two shots.

"The first one made the bear wobble a little bit and the second one, I saw the bear go down."

He immediately felt a sharp pain in his stomach.

"It knocked me backward and I curled on the floor," he said. "It really knocked the wind out of me."

He stumbled outside to catch his breath, and a supervisor handed him a metal shotgun slug found in the doorway of the fish plant.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "It was a solid chunk of lead."

The bullet had grazed him in the abdomen but hadn't penetrated through his thick layers of clothing.

He was transported to Seward Providence Medical Center, checked for signs of internal bleeding and later released with instructions to go home and take ibuprofen.

"I was so shaken up by it, and then it started to dawn on me that I got very, very lucky," he said.

Bear problems

According to a statement issued by the Seward Police Department, a wildlife call involving a bear was received late Thursday evening and two officers were dispatched to the Small Boat Harbor around 10 p.m.

After attempting unsuccessfully to drive the bear away from the populated harbor area, the officers opted to euthanize it with two shotgun slug rounds for the good of public safety, the statement said.

The bear problem is much worse this year, Police Chief Tom Clemons said.

The department is responsible for responding to bear calls within the city. There is no Fish & Game division located in Seward.

According to Clemons, officers typically attempt to scare bothersome bears back toward the mountains with firecrackers and other loud noises.

If that doesn't work and the bear is creating a public danger, they have no choice but to kill it, Clemons said.

"There is no one else to take care of it," he said. "It's really up to us."

Still, Toloff is angry. He believes the officers acted irresponsibly by firing live ammunition around the harbor.

"I feel it was out of line and we both got really lucky," he said.

"If he hadn't been wearing his work gear ..." his father, Peter Toloff said, and then he paused for a moment. "We are all, his whole family, glad the bullet didn't hit him in the head or eye."

Yet as bad as the scenario was, Toloff realizes it could have been much worse.

"I think I'll look back and this and feel very fortunate, and very, very thankful that it worked out the way it did," he said.

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