Kenai man injured in grizzly attack

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Marc Johnson ran out his front door for a morning jog and nearly died minutes later. He could still see his house when the brown bear charged him.

The 43-year-old mechanical engineer at the Kenai Tesoro plant has run his daily route hundreds of times. But Tuesday morning was different.

Three bears had been at Johnson's home near Dori-Lynn Street off Strawberry Road in Kenai about 4:30 a.m., a few hours before the attack. Johnson heard some commotion outside and went out to find a sow and two cubs in his yard.

The bears had knocked over a rabbit hutch and crushed an old, vacant chicken coop, Johnson said. On the porch, a sealed 5-gallon plastic container of compost had been raided as well, he said.

Then about 6 a.m., Johnson, thinking the bears were gone, left his home on the outskirts of town for a jog with his leashed 8-week-old dog, Sandler. About 150 yards later, as he trotted through a lightly wooded area between two hay fields, he looked ahead into another field and saw a brown bear sow with two cubs. He stopped dead in his tracks.

Didn't matter. The bears charged.

Johnson dropped Sandler's leash and did something that wildlife officials say no one should ever do: He ran.

"I was pretty scared and I ran and they got me," Johnson said by phone from his hospital room Wednesday evening. "I couldn't outrun them. I'm pretty happy to be alive."

The sow plowed over him, slashing and biting his head, arm and backside. The attack was over as fast as it had started, and Johnson began running home.

"I didn't feel it bite me; all I felt was getting knocked down," he said. "I couldn't believe I was alive."

He knew he was losing blood, and when he started to get dizzy his run turned into a walk. But each step was a step toward living, he said.

He made it, despite the large gash across his scalp and bites on his buttocks and his chest near his armpit. He underwent surgery at Central Peninsula General Hospital on Tuesday and was hoping to be discharged Thursday. Johnson said he wants to get back to work by next week, but infection remains a concern.

Sandler escaped unharmed, though he might need some therapy, Johnson joked.

On the prowl

The attack was the first on the Kenai this year, said Larry Lewis, a state Fish and Game wildlife technician. There was only one attack last year but there were six in 2006, the high in recent memory.

Bears have recently been on the prowl on the central Peninsula, he said. Over the past few weeks, a sow and two cubs have been spotted raiding garbage cans at a number of homes between Ridgeway - near Soldotna - and Strawberry Road in Kenai.

The bears aren't tagged, and it's difficult to tell if the same ones have been responsible for all the gorging, Lewis said. It's not even certain whether the bears that were at Johnson's house earlier were the ones that attacked him, he said.

"We don't know for a fact that those were the bears that were at his house earlier, but I think we can say with some reasonable assurance they probably are," Lewis said.

The bears disappeared into the woods after the attack and haven't been reported since, Alaska wildlife trooper Sgt. Paul McConnell said. Officials were not looking for the bears because they did not appear to pose a further threat, he said.

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