Saturday, June 30, 2007

Got bit because I didn't have my "bear repellent?"

Grizzly attacks, seriously wounds husband of former Montgomery Borough resident


A man with connections to Montgomery was seriously wounded, but is recovering from, an attack by a grizzly bear on June 13.

Dennis Van Denbos, 54, of Lander, Wyo., is married to Paula McCormick, a former Montgomery resident. He is the son-in-law of Delmar and Marion McCormick of Allenwood.

Van Denbos is a high school science and physical education teacher in Lander and was attending an educators’ conference at the lodge near where he was attacked.

While taking an early morning walk at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park, Van Denbos suddenly found himself in the worst possible position — far too close to a sow grizzly and her cubs. The bear attacked, biting Van Denbos on his buttocks and back.

Now recovering from his wounds, he said he is lucky to be alive.

Contacted at his home by telephone last week, Van Denbos said the bear that attacked him was estimated at 350 pounds — small by grizzly standards, but still big enough to be deadly.

“I walked down a road close to the cabins at about 6 a.m.,” he said. “They call it the Wagon Road and it goes through a little draw and up to a bluff.”

On the way out, he saw a cow and calf moose and some elk as well. But, when he decided to come back the same way, his outing took a dramatic change for the worse.

“It was time for me to get back, so I turned around to head back up the road and saw a cow elk in the sagebrush running and acting erratically,” he said. “It ran down back at me and stopped and moved off to my right.”

When he turned again to head back to the lodge, Van Denbos suddenly found himself about 10 feet away from the sow grizzly, which was charging at him.

“I knew this was a really bad situation,” he said grimly.

“The attack was three bites. She came at me and decided not to take me. I was yelling and she moved to the side a little, then I dove to the side of the road away from her, pulled my arms up underneath me and she bit me in the back.”

He told the Wood River Journal, a Hailey, Idaho, newspaper that he was not thinking about pain during the attack but felt the power of the bites.

The two other bites followed while he played dead. Van Denbos said he was not aware how long the attack lasted.

People from nearby cabins, which were only 40 feet away, heard him yelling and also began yelling in an effort to distract the bear.

Van Denbos was rescued by Amy Gray, a recent high school graduate, who was driving a chuckwagon pickup truck up the road. She was on her way to cook breakfast for a horseback trail ride.

When Gray saw the bears, she slammed on the brakes of her truck, scaring the bears away from Van Denbos.

“I got up and walked to the truck and they said, ’Are you OK?’ ” Van Denbos said.

He got into the truck and immediately was attended to by a doctor from Montana who happened to be there.

Van Denbos was taken to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson and later transferred to a hospital in Lander. He underwent surgery and now is recovering at home, although he still must receive regular treatments at the hospital to clean out the wounds he suffered.

The attack was the first bear attack in the Grand Teton since 2001. No action has been taken against the bear by wildlife officials and Van Denbos said he is not angry at the bear.

“She was just trying to make a living and raise a family,” he said. “She has gotten used to people and a lot of people have photos of her.”

Park officials have closed roads and trails off in that area as a precaution.

Van Denbos said he normally would have had bear repellent, which actually is a strong mace pepper spray, but did not on that occasion.

“I will definitely be carrying bear spray with me in bear country from now on,” he said.

Section: Posted: 7/1/2007

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