U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal of Cheyenne had scheduled a Monday trip to the North Fork location where Erwin F. Evert was killed by a grizzly bear on June 17, 2010. Evert’s widow, Yolanda Evert, is pressing a wrongful death suit against the federal government, alleging it was negligence by bear researchers that led to her husband’s fatal mauling. The suit alleges the bear had been left to recover from researchers’ tranquilizers with all warning signs removed, in violation of protocols.
Evert had reportedly gone looking for the researchers that day to see what they were up to.
Evert’s attorneys and those for the U.S. government had jointly asked Judge Freudenthal to visit the site of the mauling in the Shoshone National Forest, saying it would be the best way for her understand the “nature and character” of the area.
Freudenthal agreed to the visit in June and a roughly four-mile hike had been planned out to visit the Everts’ cabin on Kitty Creek, the trail he took to the bear research site that day and the site itself. But on July 25, Freudenthal scrapped the plans, citing the advice of the U.S. Marshals Service.
“After their visit, they (the Marshals) determined that there was significant bear activity in the area,” wrote Freudenthal, who is a Cody native. “The United States Marshal expressed his concern about the safety of all parties involved in the potential site visit, based both on bear activity and the remoteness of the terrain in the event of a personal injury or other issue.”
She agreed with his concerns and ruled it was best to nix the visit.
Freudenthal said she’ll allow the parties to provide video and photos of the areas at trial, currently set for Dec. 3.
In the joint motion originally requesting a site visit, the parties said a visit would be the most effective way for Freudenthal to fully and accurately understand the area.
While they could present photos and videos, “such evidence is no substitute for a site view,” the joint motion said.
The sides have characterized the site differently in filings.
The U.S. Attorneys Office in Cheyenne has called it “a remote area of a National Forest, almost three-quarters of a miles from even the nearest cabin.” Evert’s attorneys from the Spence Law Firm in Jackson have called it “an open recreational area with extensive trails and decommissioned roads knowingly used by the public” and said the trap site was “on a well-defined road just three-quarters of a mile from the cabin where Mr. Evert lived.”
The Everts, from Park Ridge, Ill., lived seasonally at the cabin.
Doug Lineen, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in Cheyenne, said a deputy marshal had checked out the site for a potential visit by Judge Freudenthal, including talking to other federal agencies in the area.
“Just because of the heightened bear activity, there’s no sense in bringing in another 20 people for the case and putting others in harm’s way,” Lineen said of the marshals’ advice. Why take the judge, her law clerks and all the other people up to an area they’re not familiar with “and all of a sudden have another bear attack,” Lineen asked rhetorically.