BY LINDA SMITH HANCHARICKWEST MILFORD — The cause of death for the hiker killed in September at Apshawa Preserve was mauling, according to autopsy results released Friday by the Regional medical Examiner's Office.
On Sept. 21, Darsh Patel, 22, of Edison, was killed in an apparent attack by a black bear when he was hiking with friends. Results of the necropsy performed on the bear, which was killed at the scene by police, showed human tissue, hair and clothing matching Patel's in his stomach and mouth.
In a release from West Milford Police Chief Timothy Storbeck and Larry Ragonese of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife, the subsequent investigation by police, the medical examiner and the NJDEP found:
The cause of death to Patel is mauling and the cause of the fatal injury is "mauled by bear."
The bear that attacked the hiker was a predatory bear.
The bear that was euthanized by police at the scene of the attack was the bear that was involved in the fatal attack.
The full report by the medical examiner is not yet complete, according to the release, and is not expected to be concluded for several months.
DEP findingsAccording to Ragonese, the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife, based its findings on the following observations and forensic evaluations and reports:
The behavior of the bear before the attack was typical of bears involved in predatory attacks on humans. Based on interviews with the two initial hikers who made contact with the bear and with the hikers in the Patel group, who later encountered the bear, it is apparent that the bear was exhibiting stalking type behavior. The bear did not make any threatening gestures, but did hasten its pace as the five hikers, that included the victim, retreated. The investigation did not disclose any sign of intimidation or provocation of the bear by either group of hikers.
The bear was not concerned with food items carried by the victim. Bears, especially those conditioned to human food, may approach people to receive a food reward. The victim carried a sealed granola bar in his backpack. It was noted that after the incident, the victim’s backpack and the granola bar within remained untouched.
The bear had no injuries, diseases, or rabies and appeared to be in good physical condition, with no signs of malnutrition.
The necropsy of the bear found direct evidence of human remains and the victim's clothing.
Pictures taken of the bear by the hikers in the group before the incident are comparable to a bear of the correct size and pelage characteristics as the bear euthanized by the West Milford Police officers.
The bear euthanized by the police officers stayed near the victim as they approached and would not leave, despite attempts by the officers to scare it away. The bear also behaved “aggressively” towards the officers.
The incidentPolice were called to Apshawa Preserve on Sunday, Sept. 21, at 3:45 p.m. by four friends of the victim, who were hiking that afternoon at the preserve. They told police they encountered a black bear and it followed them. They ran in different directions and the four later located each other. They called police after they couldn't find Patel.
Police also located a pair of hikers who had met up with the group of five hikers before the attack. They warned the group not to go up the trail because a bear had been following them. Patel and his friends continued on and, when they saw the bear, they took pictures with their cell phones. Those pictures have not been released by police.
West Milford Search and Rescue unit searched the area and located Patel's body at about 7:54 p.m. A bear was nearby and refused to leave the scene and Patel's body, which showed evidence of being attacked. Police shot the 4-year-old, 302-pound male bear at the scene.
The aftermathAfter the attack, hunters approached the township council asking that the township support an extended bear hunt. Currently, the state allows a six-day hunt in December. Hunters said this is insufficient since most bears are inactive at that time. The council voted 4-2 to support an extended bear hunt.
Those opposed to it say education is the key to living with wildlife. Knowing what to do during a bear encounter and keeping trash in bear-proof containers could prevent tragedies such as this one, they said. Many residents asked the council to support Bear Smart legislation currently being considered in Trenton.