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October 27, 2011 9:13 am

Grizzly mauling lawsuit

Written by Tribune Staff

Federal government sued for negligence in ’10 death

A widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government after her husband was killed in 2010 by a grizzly bear that was recovering from a research team’s tranquilizers west of Cody.

Yolanda Evert, of Park Ridge, Ill., filled suit in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne on Tuesday, seeking $5 million in damages for the death of her husband, Erwin Frank Evert. She and her husband owned a cabin about one mile from the research site where Evert was killed and had lived there seasonally for nearly 40 years.

The suit alleges the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, under the U.S. Geological Survey, negligently removed warning signs near the research site three days early and in violation of federal protocols.

On June 17, 2010, members of the team had captured and placed radio collars on two grizzly bears in the Kitty Creek drainage, about 40 miles west of Cody in the Shoshone National Forest.

The 70-year-old Evert met the second bear the team had caught and released after hiking into the area. The 430-pound male grizzly killed Evert.

“Mr. Evert was unfairly blamed for contributing to his own death,” said Emily Rankin, a partner at the Spence Law Firm in a news release. “Contrary to initial speculation, there were no bear warning signs for Mr. Evert to observe because the IGBST (Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team) personnel negligently removed each and every sign on their way out of the trapping site.”

“Had warning signs been in place, Erwin absolutely would have observed them,” said Yolanda Evert in the Spence news release. “He had safely worked and lived in the Kitty Creek area for decades before this incident. The government could have prevented this tragedy.”

The suit also claims that the study team members failed to notify all but one of the Kitty Creek cabin owners about the trapping in the area.

Erwin Evert had reportedly told his daughter that morning that he was going up the trail to check out what the bear research team was doing, said a 2010 federal report on the incident. Evert had seen “Dangerous Bear” warning signs at the second site (where the female grizzly was captured), but had not been to the site where the male grizzly was captured while trapping was taking place and the warning signs were up.

The signs were removed by interagency study team members as they left the site that afternoon; the Spence release said it was about 30 minutes later that Evert left for his hike.

“This was the final day of this trapping session and we knew we would not be returning for another trapping stint in the Kitty Creek drainage. We also felt that since we had seen no hikers in the drainage since we began our operations on May 26th, and only two horse parties who stayed on the main trail, that we were justified in our actions,” said Seth Thompson, one of the team’s trappers, in a written statement provided to the team investigating the incident last year. “We also felt that the unfavorable weather conditions would curtail human activity that day.”

The team is administered by the U.S. Geological Survey and includes federal and state officials.

Reached on Wednesday, Chris Servheen, grizzly bear coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, declined to comment on the suit.

Two days after the fatal attack, the grizzly bear was killed from a helicopter by Interagency Team members.

As described in the lawsuit, interagency study team permits say that “Every possible precaution shall be taken to avoid confrontations between bears and the public, including but not limited to closure or signing of the study sites.”

Evert was a botanist. He had published a book that spring called, “Vascular Flora of the Greater Yellowstone Area.”

4 comments

  • Comment Link October 27, 2011 9:29 am posted by Bart Parker

    Out of court settlement for sure. Government trappers took down the warning signs where Evert was killed. Guilty. Then government officials made a bad situation worse by lying to the media and insisting signs were posted, but Evert ignored them. State and federal officals don't want their dirty laundry aired in court while a panel of judges is deciding whether or not to delist grizzlies. The judges might wonder if the same officals have lied to them, too.

  • Comment Link October 27, 2011 3:08 pm posted by Jennifer

    If the friend can show that he warned Evert about the dangers and Evert went into the area anyway, then it could be hard for his family to prove that warning signs would have keep him safe.

    If Everts ignored the warning of a friend, then that is evidence in favor that he would have ignored posted signs as well. If that doubt is introduced it sets precedent that Everts might have been killed regardless of sign placement, and that would probably get the government off the hook.

    It just depends on whether or not the govt. is going to fight the suit or settle, whether or not that will become an issue.

  • Comment Link October 30, 2011 11:42 pm posted by Deborah Brost

    My sympathies to Mrs. Evert, regardless of who is to blame. I can think of no greater tragedy than losing the one I love to such a horrific death.

  • Comment Link August 01, 2012 10:04 am posted by joe bob

    I've read a lot on this case, including the official reports, and my guess is that the government is going to be found at fault here. We'll just have to wait and see what jurors think though.

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