Bear jumps hikers

Kasilof couple caught off guard

Posted: Monday, October 10, 2005

A Kasilof couple was attacked by a bear Sunday afternoon after hiking on a trail near Mile 8 of Skilak Lake Loop.

Mary Colleen Sinnott and John Poljacik were about 100 yards from their vehicle when a 300- to 400-pound brown bear charged out of the bushes.

Sinnott received a serious wound to the back of her head and was in surgery at Central Peninsula General Hospital on Sunday night. Her injuries were not considered life-threatening.

Poljacik received some minor scratches in the attack.

"It completely took them by surprise," said Greg Wilkinson, Alaska State Trooper spokes-man.

Trooper Terrence Shanigan said the husband and wife took their two 7-month-old Newfoundland puppies on a hike from the pullout on Skilak Lake Loop. When they saw a bear in the distance, they decided to head back.

"Just before they got back to their vehicle, they put the dogs back on leash," Shanigan said.

"(Sinnott) said she turned to her left and thought she saw a moose trying to get her, and at that time she was slammed from the side."

Shanigan said Sinnott had pepper spray on her but wasn't able to use it.

Poljacik ran toward the vehicle to grab his pepper spray, but the bear went after him, scratching his back and chest.

Sinnott told Shanigan she crouched behind some trees and remembers the bear growling and lots of noise, including her husband screaming at her to see if she was OK.

Poljacik managed to scare the bear off without using the spray.

"She said, 'It was just a flash,'" Shanigan said after interviewing Sinnott at the CPGH. "It was over in 20 seconds."

Despite her injuries, Sinnott told Poljacik she would go get help, but for him to go look for the dogs, which ran off into the woods when the attack began, Shanigan said.

"She walked back to the car and flagged a car after just a couple of minutes," he said.

Troopers received a call about the attack from a cell phone about 3:45 p.m.

The passerby took Sinnott to a pullout near Watson Lake on the Sterling Highway, where she was transferred to a Central Emergency Services ambulance and taken to CPGH.

"When I saw her, her eyes were swollen. It was a visible head wound," Shanigan said.

Shanigan said neither Sinnott nor Poljacik realized how bad she was injured until she got to the hospital.

"It was a large head wound. The bear grabbed her scalp and tore it from ear to ear behind her head," Shanigan said. "Because she has long hair, it wasn't visible."

Sinnott also suffered either a dislocated or broken shoulder, Shanigan said.

There have been several bear sightings throughout the area recently.

Wilkinson said several bears were spotted in the area throughout the day by troopers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel.

"On my way tot he scene, a bear crossed in front of me just a few feet, and I talked to some hikers who saw some," Shanigan said.

This is the third brown bear attack that has happened in the central Kenai Peninsula this summer. The first occurred July 22 when an 15-year-old Texas Boy Scout was mauled along the Resurrection Pass Trail while hiking with his troop. The second attack took place Sept. 6, when 21-year-old Danielle Compton, an employee of the Kenai Princess Lodge, was attacked while walking to work.

In Sunday's attack, one of the Newfoundland dogs, a brown one, was found early Sunday night. The other, a black dog, was still missing.

"There were a lot of people out today. People should keep their dogs on a leash and carry — at a minimum — pepper spray," Shanigan said.

He also noted there was a report of a brown bear on a porch on Funny River Road Saturday night. The bear was eating the food in a bird feeder.

"The bears are trying to eat as much as they can before winter," he said.

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