3600 block of 18th Avenue S.E.
GOLDEN GATE ESTATES — A Golden Gate Estates man confessed to chasing down a 400-pound black bear in his Ford F-250 pickup truck late Monday night, striking the bear several times and then shooting the threatened species dead with a pistol.
Ryan G. Toranzo told authorities his act of rage occurred after the bear had a confrontation with his pit bull, Tigger. Witness and neighbor Angel Gonzales, who made the 911 call around 11 p.m., said he watched the events unfold from his front yard, where he was standing with his two young children. He described a brutal scene.
“That guy, my neighbor, he got crazy,” Gonzales told the Daily News. “I saw the bear running away from him, but he followed him with the truck. One, two, three times, he hit him again, got out of his car and shot him.”
Toranzo, 25, of the 3600 block of 18th Avenue Southeast, was arrested by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials Tuesday morning and charged with a felony count of killing or wounding a threatened species, a felony count of animal cruelty and a misdemeanor charge of discharging a firearm in a public place. Killing a black bear is a third degree felony -- punishable by up to five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine.
A woman, who identified herself as the suspect’s wife, said her mother-in-law reported seeing the bear near the house and watched their dog chase after it.
“(The dog) now has a deep wound on his head,” she said, “but he’s OK.”
Toranzo told authorities the brawl between his dog and the bear drove him into action, said FWC spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro.
According to an arrest report, an FWC biologist said the bear suffered broken bones. Animal hair and flesh were found on the undercarriage of Toranzo’s truck. However, a cause of death for the bear has not been determined.
FWC officials said the bear slaying appeared to be more than just a simple case of a man protecting his dog.
“Physical evidence and witness statements don’t point to self-defense of a human,” FWC Capt. Jayson Horadam said. “We filed animal cruelty based on the circumstances of the situation.”
Yasmany Hernandez, another neighbor, said bears are common in their neighborhood, but the worst they’ve done is knock over a few trash cans.
“I came out once and saw him, probably the same one, sitting and eating dog food like it was cereal,” Hernandez said.
Gonzales said he was completely shocked by what he saw.
“I can’t understand what got him so mad, I didn’t understand what he was doing,” he said.
The bear was killed about 30 feet from Gonzales’ driveway in the bushes, and the remnants remained clearly visible on Tuesday morning.
Ferraro said pet food and garbage should not be left outdoors at residences because they can attract bears.
These bears, however, are intimidated by humans.
“We have never had a bear attack a person in Florida and truly their nature is to leave when confronted by humans,” Horadam said.
Bears are protected under state law and residents should avoid conflicts with the animals, she said.
In 2009, a San Carlos Park man was arrested after shooting a black bear in his backyard.
Kevin Michael Doerr, 40, pleaded guilty in killing a bear in exchange for a plea deal of two years probation and a $500 donation to a wildlife conservation fund.
Toranzo was released from jail Tuesday after posting bond.
Staff writers Sabina Bhasin and Elysa Batista contributed to this report.