WEST MILFORD, N.J. — A Rutgers University student hiking in the woods of northern New Jersey was mauled to death Sunday by a 300-pound black bear in what authorities said was a highly unusual attack.
Darsh Patel, 22, a senior majoring in information technology and informatics, was killed in a heavily wooded area known as the Apshawa Preserve after becoming separated from a group of four friends with whom he was hiking, West Milford Township Police Chief Timothy Storbeck said in a statement.
“The group of five hikers encountered a black bear in the woods that began to follow them, they became frightened and attempted to flee the area,” the statement said. “During the confusion, the group became separated as they ran in different directions.”
Four of the young men later found one another and contacted police. Patel’s body was later discovered in the woods, with the bear still about 30 to 40 yards away.
“Evidence at the scene indicated that the victim had been attacked by a bear,” said the statement, adding that the bear was “euthanized” at the scene.
Black bears, which are common in New Jersey, have been seen in all of the state’s 21 counties. But encounters with human as well as attacks are unusual, said Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s an unfortunate and tragic accident,” Hajna said. “It’s a rare situation.”
The 4-year-old male bear, which wasn’t tagged, was being examined to determine why it went after the hikers.
Hajna advised people who encounter bears to remain calm and do not run. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak with a low but assertive voice. “It’s easier said than done,” he said.
The chancellor of Rutgers-New Brunswick, Richard Edwards, in a statement expressed his sympathy for the family of Patel and another Rutgers student who died over the weekend.
Caitlyn Kovacs, 19, died at a New Jersey hospital after appearing to go into distress during a gathering at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house, according to CNN affiliate WPIX.
Authorities were awaiting the result of toxicology tests, WPIX reported.
In a statement, Doug Lanpher, executive director of Delta Kappa Epsilon, International, said: “We would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Caitlyn Kovacs. We also wish to extend our sympathies to the students of Rutgers University as they endure this time of grief and misfortune. As the investigation of the incident is ongoing, Delta Kappa Epsilon is fully cooperating with local and county authorities.”