Flap: Did bear really kill a Clinton man?
Lock Haven, Pa. — One thing is known for certain about the mid-October death of Gary Lininger: He died in the forest near his rural Clinton County home while cutting firewood.
But officials do not agree how the Woodward Township man died.
Both the Clinton County coroner and a Pennsylvania Game Commission investigator concede the 62-year-old was struck by a tree he was cutting down with a chainsaw.
And they also agree that he was later mauled by a bear.
But Coroner Donald Walker’s report, issued in late November, concluded that Lininger was injured but not killed by the tree falling on him, and was finished off by the bear.
That makes the case the first known fatal black bear attack in Pennsylvania history.
But the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which conducted its own investigation into Lininger’s death, disagrees.
The agency contends that the wounds presumably made by a bear show all the signs of an animal scavenging for food – not a black bear attacking a living victim.
Commission officials believe the falling tree killed the man and the bear stumbled upon his body later.
David Carlini, information and education supervisor for the commission’s Northcentral Region office, who led the agency’s investigation into the fatality, stressed that the commission’s official finding is the tree – not the bear – killed Lininger.
“We disagree with the cause of death,” he told a news reporter with the Harrisburg Patriot News. “We know the characteristics of a bear kill. This is not what a bear would do and how it would do it.”
Yet Coroner Walker, who also owns and operates a Lock Haven funeral home, was adamant that a bear attack was at least a “contributing cause” in Lininger’s death.
Walker’s report, based upon an autopsy by a pathologist, states that while the falling tree might have stunned Lininger, breaking a couple of his ribs and perhaps knocking him to the ground, it didn’t kill him.
Instead, a black bear came along and finished the job.
“It’s a done deal, and they’re wrong,” Walker told the Patriot News reporter.
“Myself, the state policeman, the pathologist – we’ve done thousands of death investigations … how many have they done? The Game Commission can’t have it their own way on this. It’s already the official record.”
State Police accepted the coroner’s conclusion on Lininger’s death.
Trooper Matthew McDermott, of the Lamar Barracks, who headed the probe, also released his final report in late November, claiming that a bear attacked the victim.
“The victim felled a tree, it struck him, rendering him dazed or unconscious,” the report stated. “While in this state, a bear attacked the victim, which ultimately resulted in his death.”
All the same, Carlini wasn’t buying it.
“I am very sure of our findings of the facts – we are the wildlife experts,” he told a reporter with the Williamsport Sun Gazette.
“We’ve dealt with bears killing livestock, pigs, horses … We know the characteristics of bear kills. We are basing our conclusion on that knowledge and experience.
“We are not seeing evidence of a bear attack. There were multiple scratches on the body… a lot of them post mortem. Many of the other injuries were also post mortem.
“Some of the injuries were not post mortem … believed caused by the tree falling on him.”
Carlini indicated that it was important that Keystone State residents are not spooked by the prospect of man-eating bruins.