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BEAR VISITS WESTLAKE VILLAGE HIGH SCHOOL LOCKED DOWN AS OFFICIALS TRY TO CATCH ANIMAL.

Byline: ANGIE VALENCIA-MARTINEZ and ERIC LEACH Staff Writer

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. -- Lou Miraglia happened to look out the window of his town home about 7 a.m. Thursday when he saw a 6-foot black bear staring back at him.

``I said, `Oh my God. It's a bear.''' he said. ``We stared at each other for two to three minutes. It was pretty nonchalant, and it seemed to be in great shape with a beautiful coat. Then it turned around and ran up over the top of the hill.''

The loose animal prompted Westlake High School officials to lock down the campus.

The bear, spotted several times by residents on Via Colinas and Via Merida and at the North Ranch Golf Course, eluded wildlife officials and police for five hours before they called off the search at 1:30 p.m. Authorities said they will remain vigilant.

``This bear is considered a no-harm, no-foul bear,'' said Troy Swauger, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. ``We hope it has decided to take the road less traveled and move back into the wilderness.''

While the high school students were being held in their classrooms, residents of the Hidden Canyon Townhomes poured into the streets.

Some said their dogs showed signs of concern early in the morning, hiding or refusing to go toward the canyon.

``This is a first,'' Camille Bovee said. ``It's fascinating ... I can't believe it.''

``It came bounding over the top of the hill,'' said Kate Maddox, who saw the bear after she heard a Ventura County Sheriff's Department helicopter. ``It was like `M*A*S*H.'''

Although bear sightings are rare in the Conejo Valley, at least three bears have wandered into the area over the past few years.

In May 2004, a bear was found roaming from yard to yard, climbing trees and lounging in a Jacuzzi in Agoura Hills, about a mile east of Westlake High School.

Another bear was found in a Thousand Oaks garage near the 23 Freeway and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in August 2004.

In those cases, state Department of Fish and Game officers tranquilized the bears and took them to the Las Padres National Forest.

angie.valencia@dailynews.com

(805) 583-7604

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, map

Photo:

(1) A loose bear left county officials scratching their heads as they tried to figure out where it went after the animal was sighted in Westlake Village early Thursday morning.

(2) A screen shot of the bear spotted in Westlake Village.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News

(3) Residents line Via Merida on Thursday to watch sheriff's deputies and California Department of Fish and Game personnel search the hills behind Westlake High School.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

Map:

Bear sighted
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 28, 2006
Words:459
Previous Article:SAFE HAVEN LAW EFFECTIVE ABANDONED-BABY DEATHS HAVE FALLEN SINCE '01, REPORT SAYS.
Next Article:MAYOR TO STUDENTS: DON'T BOYCOTT SCHOOLS MONDAY.



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