Bear now part of Story family lore

Posted 7/30/10

A Larkspur family experienced a slightly twisted brush with fame, courtesy of a late-night visit from an adult brown bear. On July 23, the Story …

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Bear now part of Story family lore


A Larkspur family experienced a slightly twisted brush with fame, courtesy of a late-night visit from an adult brown bear.

On July 23, the Story family had a visit from a bear that got into a family car, locked himself in, demolished the vehicle and threw the family into a whirlwind of an international spotlight.

It is an experience that will go down in family history, said Ralph Story, whose family lives on a wooded property in Perry Park, an area known for bears.

The incident began in the wee hours of the morning, when a neighbor heard a car intermittently honking in the woods. The neighbor, Beth Caplan, tossed and turned for nearly an hour before she got into her car to investigate the noise, Story said.

She tracked it to the Story driveway, where the tail lights of the family’s 2008 Toyota Corolla flickered and the horn periodically sounded. Caplan figured Story and his wife, Stacey, were gone and one of the teens in the house, Becky, 15, Ben, 17 and Nate, 19, was horsing around, Story said.

She called the sheriff’s office, which found the car had rolled 125 feet down the driveway, dropped into a steep embankment and landed against some scrub oak. When the deputy went to investigate, he shined his flashlight into the vehicle, coming eye to eye with a brown bear.

“The officer took off,” Story said. “He was out of there in a hurry.”

When deputies called the family to report that a bear was trapped in their car, Story only heard one half of the conversation. Between the 3:30 a.m. phone call and his wife’s reaction, he was wide awake in no time.

“She just kept saying, ‘Oh my God,’ ‘Oh no,’” Story said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

The bear entered the car through an unlocked door, in search of a peanut butter sandwich. The car door closed behind the bear and in his thrashing he broke off the gear shift, throwing the car into neutral for its trip down the driveway. The animal was trapped for about two hours while officers debated how to release him, Story said.

Those two hours proved fatal for the nearly new vehicle, which was damaged beyond repair after the animal spent two hours seeking a way out. Deputies opted against shooting out a window and decided to tie a rope to the door handle, opening the door from about 50 feet away. The family was confined to the house, where Ben and Nate watched the action from the roof. Nate is home from college for summer break and now has the what-I-did-during-my-summer-break story.

“I was pretty much in shock,” Nate Story said. “You don’t get woken up at 3:30 in the morning saying there’s a bear sitting in your car. You look outside and see movement, and boom, there’s a bear in the car. I was dumbfounded.”

Once the door was open, the bear took about 30 seconds before he left the vehicle and disappeared into the woods. While the family hasn’t seen any signs of the animal, his visit sparked a series of calls that didn’t stop for days.

Within two days the family had heard from every national news agency in the country, interviewed with Canadian and British broadcasts and was featured on nearly every major online news feed in the world, Story said. Story and Ben, who drove the vehicle, were featured on a live feed for the “Today” show, and Ben still hopes to hear from some entertainment networks for a few more chances at fame, Story said.

“It’s a lot of fun, but there came a time that every time our phone rang it was another news agency,” Story said. “We’ve been chauffeured around town for three different agencies and three different broadcasts. Fame is cool for awhile, but we’ll be glad when it’s over.”

As for the rest of the family, which has lived in Larkspur for 17 years, they were happy — five days after the bear’s visit — to have their first quiet family dinner of the week. The family saved a piece of the car’s dashboard, complete with claw and teeth marks, and agreed the bear story will be passed down for generations.

The story will come with a few lessons.

“Don’t ever underestimate Mother Nature,” Story said. “Don’t leave food in the car where wildlife lives, and lock your doors. But then again who would ever suspect … a bear is going to walk up, open the car, enter the car, have the door close behind him and raise havoc.”


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