Survivor of Bear Attack Describes Jaws Around Neck, Decision to Play Possum

There was a moment, when the bear had its jaws around his neck, that Dan Richman wondered if he would make it. 

"I thought at the same time, it's not over till it's over," said the 54-year-old Sierra Madre man, now with cuts and bruises over much of his body, and a voice hoarse from yelling, but well enough to be discharged from Methodist Hospital and share his story of survival.

Speaking from a wheelchair, Richman said he often jogs on the trail into the mountains from Bailey Canyon Park, and was nearing his turn around point when he had his unexpected encounter.

"I just looked up, and there was this bear standing on its hind leg, looking right at me," Richman said.

Bear sightings in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains are not unusual, but Richman said this was the first time he had ever come across one.

The thought of taking some cellphone video occurred to him briefly, he said, before concluding he best start backing away. As he did so, he noticed there was a second bear behind him.

"I thought this is not good. I am totally trapped."


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Richman decided to make a run for it, he recalled, but one bear quickly ran him down.

"I remember he grabbed my leg ... that's when I dropped my cell phone and I remember thinking, 'I might not make it.'"

It got worse.

"It actually put its jaws around the back of my neck," Richman said. "All I could think of right then was, the only chance I have, is to just be as still as possible."

It seemed like an eternity, but playing possum worked, he said. 

"Maybe 5 or 10 seconds passed, and the bear just got up and walked away," Richman said.

"I'm sure the bear was threatened by me. It was a mutual situation. We had to have a scuffle before I could get out."

Bloodied and with torn clothing, Richman ran down the trail, and described the startled response he got at the bottom from someone who recognized him.

"He said, 'Dude! What happened to you?' And I said, "Well, I got mauled by a bear.'" He made it home to his wife, and police and paramedics arrived moments later.

California Fish and Game wardens returned to the trail Tuesday to continue their investigation, but did not encounter the bears.

Bear attacks are rare, but this is the second in the San Gabriel foothills since June, when a female black bear entered the Millard Campground above Altadena and apparently seeking food, reached toward a tent and clawed a camper. The bear went up a tree and was captured, and later euthanized, said Andrew Hughan of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

What caused the attack on Richman is not clear. He may have inadvertently come between a mother and cub, or even startled two bears that were mating.

If the bears are found, what will become of them has not been determined, Hughan said. He said at this point the bears are not being tracked, nor have any traps been set.

Richman declined to express an opinion what he thinks should happen to the bears.

Richman works in craft services in the entertainment indstry, and should be well enough soon to return to work.  He's even thinking about returning to the trails, but now would recommend not hiking or jogging alone.

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