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Judge awards $1.95 million to family of boy killed by bear in American Fork Canyon

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge awarded $1.95 million Tuesday to the family of a boy who was killed by a black bear while camping in American Fork Canyon nearly four years ago.

Sam Ives, 11, was killed June 17, 2007, when he was dragged out of his family's multiroom tent and mauled by a massive black bear.

Ives' parents, Rebecca Ives and Kevan Francis, claimed that the death was caused by the negligence of employees of the U.S. Forest Service who failed to warn campers of the bear's presence, and the state Division of Wildlife Services.

"I'm glad that it's over, but I'm actually surprised that they decided to fight us, when they were clearly wrong," Francis said Tuesday after hearing about the ruling.

The bear had attacked a man 12 hours earlier at the same campsite where Sam, his mother, his brother and his stepfather were staying. Forest officials looked for the bear for several hours but gave up before finding it and failed to warn others, the lawsuit alleged.

The trial was held in February before U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball. Kimball took several weeks before issuing Tuesday's verdict finding the federal and state government agencies — the Forest Service in particular — liable for Sam's death.

Sam was camping with his family on Father's Day 2007, when, in the middle of the night, a bear ripped through the boy's tent and dragged him away. His body was found a couple of hours later about 400 yards from their camping spot about a mile above the Timpooneke campground.

The family's attorney argued the Forest Service could have and should have done more to warn campers of a problem bear in the area.

The ruling says the Forest Service "breached its duties" by not warning the public and found the agency to be 65 percent at fault. The judge assigned 25 percent of the blame to the Division of Wildlife Resources for failing to communicate with the Forest Service, and 10 percent of the fault to the boy's family for leaving food out in bear country — specifically a granola wrapper and a Coke Zero can.

"The court would be abdicating its responsibility if it failed to allocate any fault whatsoever to Sam and his parents because of the food that was found in the family tent," the judgment said.

The judge calculated damages at $3 million, but because Kimball found the United States only 65 percent liable, Sam's parents were awarded 65 percent of that amount, or $1.95 million.

Francis said he filed a lawsuit so that people would pay attention and avoid a similar tragedy.

"We really hope that this keeps it from happening to someone else," he said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office, which defended the Forest Service in the lawsuit, said attorneys will review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

Contributing: Sam Penrod