‘Drunken Capering’ Leads to Prison For Trio Who Took Selfies With Bears

An Alaska magistrate didn’t mince words when he sentenced three American men to prison time on May 16.

According to federal charges, one man in the group waded into the Brooks River in Katmai National Park on August 9, 2018, to snap selfies with his phones. He and his two companions not only violated park regulations by leaving the authorized viewing zone, but they also approached a slew of feeding brown bears to within 50 yards — an act Magistrate Judge Scoble deemed unacceptable.

While sentencing the three men on Monday, Magistrate Scoble characterized their actions as “drunken capering, and a slap in the face to those who were there.”

David Engelman, 56, of Sandia Park, New Mexico, and Ronald J. Engelman II, 54, and Steven Thomas, 30, both of King Salmon, Alaska, pleaded guilty to the charges.

Based on available evidence, any other plea might not have drawn much water — a livestream camera captured Engelman taking pictures of himself, calf-deep in the river ambling toward the substantial group of bears.

Keep the footage rolling to watch Engelman grope (unsteadily) even closer to the feeding ursines.

Prison, Fines, and Probation

David Engelman and Ronald Engelman II each received a sentence of one week in prison, a fine of $3,000 and one year of probation.

Steven Thomas received a sentence of 10 days in prison, a fine of $3,000 and one year of probation.

The $9,000 in fines will go to the Katmai Conservancy, a non-profit that will administer the funds to the park for law enforcement and other purposes. As well, the magistrate’s decision prohibited each man from entering any U.S. national park for one year.

Best Case Scenario?

While issuing the sentences, Scoble highlighted the potential negative economic impact of tourism to Katmai National Park if a bear had killed or injured someone — including but not limited to one of the defendants — in the incident.

The court also noted how dangerous the men’s conduct was to all individuals involved, and considered the impact on bystanders regardless of bodily harm.

“The conduct of these three individuals not only endangered other visitors and wildlife officers at Brooks Falls, they also potentially endangered the life of the bears.” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska.

“These individuals behaved carelessly and put themselves at great risk, Mark Strum, superintendent of Katmai National Park and Preserve added. “Brown bears are fierce, territorial predators, especially when concentrated in order to feed on migrating salmon. Things could have easily ended very badly.”

Considering the alternatives, you might say things actually ended pretty well for Thomas and the Engelman brothers.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.