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Woman played dead during bear mauling at Valles Caldera

SANTA FE, N.M. — A marathon runner from Los Alamos played dead after getting mauled by a mother bear protecting one of her cubs Saturday in the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

“I have a fractured right orbit from the mean left hook,” victim Karen Williams wrote in a Facebook post late Sunday night. “I’m missing parts of (my) eyelid and eyebrow, injury to the belly of my left bicep and a lot of punctures and lacerations. But I am alive.”

The attack occurred in the mid-afternoon as Williams crossed Redondo Meadow about 23.5 miles into the marathon portion of the Valles Caldera Runs, she wrote.

She was “coming up a little rise just before that terrible off-trail uphill,” Williams wrote. “There was some sort of seep or pond or mucky area at the top of that little hill and when I topped it a bear was charging me.”

The bear was too close to do much of anything, she wrote.

“She was about 15 (feet) away,” Williams wrote. “I raised my arms and yelled ‘NO!,’ then saw the cub. Then I was on my ass and being raked with claws and bitten. I cried out in pain and Mama bear did not like that so she hit me with a left hook and bit my neck and started to try to shake me. I rolled into a ball and played dead.”

The cub had scampered up a tree, and the bear went to check its offspring.

The bear “stopped at the base of a tree and huffed at her cub that was up about 30 feet,” Williams wrote. “The cub cried a bit while trying to get down the tree. Mama bear kept glancing my way to make sure that I was still ‘dead.’ I was at that point afraid I might die. I didn’t know what the wound on my neck was like because I did not move for fear she would come wail (sic) on me some more.”

It took a half-hour before another runner came by, and he and several other nearby runners began rescue efforts, Williams said.

Members of La Cueva District Volunteer Fire Department provided initial stabilization treatment at the site of the attack, which was about a mile from the nearest gate to the meadow area, then Williams was flown by helicopter to University of New Mexico Hospital, said Lee Taylor, district fire chief.

Although the wounds were not life threatening, “because of the significance of the injuries, we called for the helicopter to transport immediately,” he said.

She was treated at UNMH for about 14 hours before being released, Williams wrote.

The adult bear was captured Sunday and, according to state law requiring any wild animal that bites a human to be put down, was euthanized to check it for rabies, said Lance Cherry, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Results were not back yet, he said, nor did he know how long it would take to get those results.

Game and Fish officials were still searching for the mother’s three cubs Sunday afternoon, he said. Once captured, officials plan to turn them over to the New Mexico Wildlife Center in EspaƱola, he said.

Williams in her Facebook post acknowledged the bear’s death and the effort to rescue her cubs.

“I am really sorry that the mama bear died. She was just being a bear,” she said in response to comments on her post.

This was the 10th running of the race, which also includes a half-marathon and a 10-K. The U.S. National Park Service, which now manages the preserve, gave race organizers a permit for a maximum of 350 entrants, although in the past it has had more than 600. The race has been organized and managed by the private High Altitude Sports for the past several years.

It was originally scheduled for April 23, but it was postponed because of poor weather in the week prior, which made the roads into the aid station areas impassable.

The attack was the first of the year in the Jemez Mountains area, Taylor said, adding, “There have been a lot of bears seen in this part of the Jemez this year. I don’t know why but there have been a lot of bear sightings this year.”