Wake County man hit by lightning -- then mauled by a bear

STAFF WRITERJune 22, 2010 

Some guys have all the luck.

And then there's Rick Oliver, who might be one of the unluckiest men in the state, if not the world.

Oliver was mauled by a bear in his otherwise peaceful front yard a few weeks ago.

"It was like getting struck by lightning," he said.

Turns out, Oliver might be one of the few people in the world capable of accurately making the bear-lightning analogy.

And for Oliver, 51, the two incidents seem to go hand in hand.

Ever since he was struck by lightning in 2006, Oliver says, he's had trouble sleeping.

On restless nights, he tends to piddle about his farm, checking on his chickens, working on his tractors and, as he was in the wee hours of June 3, fixing up his Chevy Malibu.

About 2 a.m., he heard a distant rustling on his 17-acre spread, which is off Yates Mill Pond Road in an unincorporated sliver of Wake County between Cary and Raleigh.

As he turned to investigate, he was dealt a heavy blow. "I heard this strange huffing," Oliver said. "And the next thing I know I had been run over and stepped on by a bear."

The black bear's claws gouged his wrist so deep that when he first took off his bandage, blood spewed onto his farmhouse floor. "Like a hose," he said.

"That was when my daughter said, 'Dad we need to take you to the emergency room.' "

The biggest cut was so deep and wide that doctors at WakeMed couldn't sew it up. So doctors bandaged up Oliver and told him to keep pressure on the lacerations.

Nature 2, Oliver 0.

"He's a little unlucky," said Cameron Rhodes of Cary, who was married by Oliver at Piney Plain United Church of Christ in Cary, where Oliver is a minister. "But he's even more lucky he has survived both of them."

The chances of being attacked by a bear are rather slim, biologists say.

Between 2005 and 2009, only nine people were killed by bears in the United States, according to the N.C Wildlife Resources Commission.

Compare that to the 141 people who were killed by dogs during the same period, and you get the idea.

The chances of being struck by lightning are also extremely narrow. "You have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than getting killed by a bear," a report published by the U.S. Forest Service's Bear Aware program says.

So it doesn't take a math whiz to figure out the extreme unlikelihood of both happening to the same person.

"The probability is infinitesimal," said Ross Leadbetter, a statistician at UNC-Chapel Hill. "The closest approximation is certainly zero."

Bears in the Triangle

The odds get thinner still in the Triangle, where people vastly outnumber omnivorous bears. About 11,000 bears live in North Carolina. But there are very few in the Raleigh and Cary area, said Joe Folta, a wildlife biologist at the N.C Wildlife Resources Commission.

"The ones that do pass through are the one- to one-and-a-half-year-old bears who have been chased off by the bigger bears from the eastern and northern part of the state," he said.

It's common for young bears to travel through the Piedmont region in search of food or love during mating season, said Folta, who has studied bears for 25 years. Black bears will usually run the other way when confronted with danger.

"The best thing to do with a black bear is to clap, bark, or make a loud noise and make yourself look bigger to scare them away," he said. "It's not uncommon to find a bear going through your garbage, or even destroying your barbecue grill or bird feeder."

Oliver, who was on a much needed vacation in Myrtle Beach last week, admits he may have left something to attract the bear. "Leftovers," Oliver says, "from lunch in a bag up on the top step."

aspecht@nando.com or 919-460-2600

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