Mauling victim recounts attack on Anchorage trail

Runner was second person in six weeks to be attacked in park

Posted: Monday, August 11, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The brown bear stood and hesitated for a moment. Panting.

Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News
Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News

It was just five feet away and Clivia Feliz, crouched between fallen trees, was futilely trying to protect herself. Feliz, a 51-year-old massage therapist and regular Anchorage trail runner, watched it in that time-stopping moment, waiting for its next move.

But the bear's hesitation didn't last in the woods at Far North Bicentennial Park early Friday evening.

It pounced, breaking through the trees as if they were a pile of dead leaves.

What looked like a 400-pound bruin bit into Feliz's arm. Then it tore into it again. Its jaws went for her head and neck, but broke no bone and ripped no flesh. It jostled her head between its teeth.

Then it stood over Feliz for another one of those long moments. Was it going for her stomach? How could she protect her vital organs? She tried to lift her legs. She turned her head in its direction just in time to hear the crunch of its teeth against her ribs.

By the end of the attack, Feliz would have a partially collapsed lung, a torn arm, and puncture marks on her head and neck, among other injuries.

She was the second person in six weeks to be mauled by what biologists believe to be the same brown bear with two cubs on the Rover's Run trail, which parallels the salmon-rich Campbell Creek in southeast Anchorage.

"I'm lucky," Feliz said from her hospital bed at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the attack. "It was my fault. I shouldn't have been on that trail."

Fish and Game biologist Rick Sinnott looked for the bear until sunset Saturday, intending to kill it, and possibly its cubs. The trail is now closed.

Feliz, a marathon runner, had been avoiding Far North Bicentennial Park for the last month because of a brown bear attack on a 15-year-old biker in late June. But after seeing two black bears on her usual running trails at Kincaid recently, she decided to head to the east side park.

She said that in the 12 years she's lived here, she's never seen so many bears around the city's trails.

She parked her car just past Service High School, and she and her 6-year-old border collie, Sky, started their run on the multipurpose trail. She wanted to do six miles.

When she got to the beginning of Rover's Run, she saw a sign warning of bears in the area. It said there had been a sighting on "7/25/08" but in a quick read, she registered it as June 25, not July 25. She thought it was six weeks ago, not two.

Whatever hesitation she had from the sign dissipated when a bicyclist emerged from the trail. So she and Sky, who was running right next to her off leash, stepped onto the path.

About 800 feet into it, she saw two cubs 50 feet away.

"As soon as I stopped, they looked up and started bolting for us," she said. "At full speed."

She turned around and began running as fast as she could back to the trail head. "I kept looking over my shoulder but they kept coming," she said.

She knew she was in trouble. Their mother would be close behind. And she knew she couldn't outrun a sow.

"I thought, if I get off the trail, maybe they'll lose me."

So she scrambled for the woods.

But the cubs kept coming.

She decided to look for a tree or something she could climb for safety. But there was nothing.

She turned around once more. Sky had run off in a different direction; the cubs took off after him. Behind her instead was a round, beautiful, healthy sow that looked like a 400-pound version of her cubs, coming through brush.

She crouched down next to a couple of fallen trees to create what barrier she could. Feliz hoped the bear would follow its cubs and keep going. But it didn't.

"She just pounced right through those trees and was on top of me," she said.

"I was like, 'This might be it."'

When the bear crunched into her rib cage, she could hear the bones separate. "She just chomped from front to back."

None of what was happening to her was really registering, though. In that moment, her conscious thought was not that a bear was ripping her open. A primordial survival instinct took over.

Feliz doesn't know how long the attack was. Time stopped and accelerated at once.

She screamed for help, but no one was around.

"She just stayed there for a moment, then took off real fast."

When the bear retreated, she didn't know what to do. Was it still nearby? Should she play dead?

Feliz was in pain but it wasn't what she was thinking about. She wasn't giving herself to it. She just couldn't while she was out there, she later recalled. She would have to try to survive. The realization of pain would come later in the emergency room.

"I've got to get out. I don't have time to lie here," she thought.

She knew something was very wrong where the bear had bitten into her ribs. She thought it might be her spleen. She couldn't yell out for help anymore, though. She couldn't figure out why. Later at the hospital she would learn it was because of her injured lung.

She got up and started making her way back to the trail. She wouldn't look at her arm. She didn't want to see the details, she said. All that mattered was she knew she couldn't use it. Sky, disturbed but uninjured, found her and licked blood off her arm.

She pushed her hand on her ribs to stop the bleeding, and started walking. One foot in front of the other.

Feliz took 45 minutes to walk out to the Buckner trail head at Campbell Airstrip Road - saying "Help" when she could.

When she got to the road, one car came and she made eye contact with the driver. She tried to signal for help but had one arm pressuring her torso and the other one couldn't move. The driver kept going down the road.

The driver of a second car seemed to be distracted and didn't even look at her, she said.

She waited until a third car drove up. "I thought I'm going to have to hurl myself into the road here," she said.

She told the driver to call 911.

Feliz says the attack was her own fault. She shouldn't have been on the trail.

She doesn't want to see the bear put down, but understands why Fish and Game would choose to. "If it wasn't me, it could have been someone else," she said.

"I hope people take notice. It's not necessary to go to the extreme and kill every bear in the vicinity. But realize that when it is a year like this year, don't take high risks either.

"I did and I shouldn't have."

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