Bear leads officers on wild chase through Wilmington, escapes into woods

The bear appeared in the alley between two homes in the 1300 block of Clayton St. in Wilmington. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The bear appeared in the alley between two homes in the 1300 block of Clayton St. in Wilmington. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Updated: 5:58 p.m.

Sometimes you get the bear.

And sometimes the furry black beast lumbers from yard to yard, through rowhome alleys, over and through fences, and finally escapes into the woods to freedom.

That’s the confounding situation Wilmington and state police as well as animal control officers from Delaware and Pennsylvania found themselves in Thursday morning while trying to corral a black bear that’s been sighted in both states in recent days.

Several residents of Trolley Square, a residential/commercial neighborhood on Wilmington’s western edge, reported seeing the bear Thursday morning. Officers descended on the area.  A police drone and news helicopters joined the search.

“It’s pretty exciting,’’ resident Bill Dowling said as he grabbed his morning coffee. “Not something you see every day, but living in the city, you never know what to expect.”

Jim Evans, who works at the aptly-named Bear Alignment Center, got a chuckle out of the irony. “It’s pretty crazy,’’ he agreed.

Holly Lea shows where the bear broke through a wooden fence in an alley off DuPont Street. “The poor little bear is probably scared out of his wits,’’ she said. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Holly Lea, who works for an accounting firm, showed where the bear had earlier trampled a wooden fence behind the business. “The poor little bear is probably scared out of his wits. I feel bad for him,’’ Lea said. “They are chasing him through the city. It’s not the woods. So he has no idea where he’s going or what to do.”

Around 8:45 a.m., officers said they had the bear surrounded in a yard in Trolley Square. With the news helicopters and police drone overhead, officials cordoned off an area near Pennsylvania Avenue and DuPont Street, behind a Subaru dealership.

“We have him contained,” city police office Brendan Marshall said at about 9 a.m.

Or so they thought.

An animal control officer nailed the bear with a tranquilizer dart, but the dart fell out, several officers said. The bear, which one official estimated to be about 150 pounds, then continued lumbering around the neighborhood.

Dozens of residents and reporters gathered outside the barricaded area, following as officers moved the police tape as the beast meandered.

The bear walked toward Clayton Street before turning around and hopping a wall before police and animal control officers arrived. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The wild animal made a brief appearance in the same dirt alley where Lea had taken a reporter minutes earlier — but then quickly vanished.

“Get back. It’s for your safety,’’ one police officer barked at gawkers as they struggled to contain the chaotic scene.

A WHYY reporter spotted and photographed the bear again in the 1300 block of Clayton Street about 9:45 a.m.

An alarmed animal control officers exhorted onlookers and reporters to get back after the bear was spotted about 20 yards away in an alley off DuPont Street. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“There he is,’’ shouted Steve Wannberg, who was with the reporter on a porch in the same block.

The creature was pacing around a backyard, looking around, then casually ambled up the alley toward the street, where police and animal control officers scrambled to catch it.

By the time an armed officer turned the corner toward the alley, the bear had reversed course and clambered over a brick wall to another property, eluding authorities once again.

Pennsylvania animal control officers brought a bear trap to Thursday’s hunt, to no avail. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

A Pa. game warden truck carrying a long cylindrical bear trap joined the caravan of police trying to find the bruin.

Finally, the bear found nearby train tracks that cut through the neighborhood, walked on them for a bit, and then disappeared toward the Alapocas Woods northwest of the city.

Police and animal control vehicles raced around the nearby Rockford Park area, all in vain.

After the bear fled the city, confounding dozens of responders, officers and an ambulance descended on Alapocas Woods, where one officer told WHYY, “It’s a needle in a haystack at this point,’’ he said. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

On the winding road to Alapocas Woods, several police vehicles, joined by the one with the bear trap and an ambulance from St. Francis Hospital, followed what they suspected was the trail.

Alapocas Run State Park closed its wooded areas and trails to the public Thursday afternoon due to bear sightings in the area, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

At 11:15, officers were marching through the vast woods, but one officer seemed resigned to the fact that on this day, the bear had outwitted law enforcement.

“It’s a needle in a haystack at this point,’’ the officer said.

Police encourage anyone who spots the bear to call the Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police at their 24-hour dispatch line at 800-523-3336.

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