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Scout Tells of His Tussle With Bear at Campsite : Ordeal: The 12-year-old boy keeps his sense of humor and says: 'I kind of swatted at him and he basically started chewing on my head. It was pretty terrifying.'

August 08, 1993|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

REDLANDS — With his right eye swollen shut and bandages swaddling his head, 12-year-old Boy Scout Bobby Clark grinned mischievously Saturday when reporters asked how he survived a vicious attack by a 200-pound marauding bear.

"I gouged him in the eyes, grabbed him around the neck and threw him out of the shelter," he said at a news conference at Redlands Community Hospital.

Well, not exactly.

His Indiana Jones-type tale aside, the Fullerton boy admitted that he was defenseless Friday morning at Camp Tahquitz in the San Bernardino Mountains when the bear attacked, biting off a 4-by-5-inch portion of his scalp.

"He woke me up," Bobby said in a serious tone. "I kind of swatted at him and he basically started chewing on my head. It was pretty terrifying."

Bobby, who will soon be a seventh-grader at Ladera Vista Junior High School, was one of three youngsters to be mauled in four days by the same black bear in the Barton Flats area. The bear and its companion were tracked down by hounds Friday and shot to death.

Bobby said he held no animosity toward the creature.

"It's sort of relieving (they were killed), but sort of sad at the same time," he said. "They were only doing what's natural."

Forest and wildlife officials said the attacks were flukes and on Saturday could find no medical explanation for them.

Bobby said he and other Scouts had heard about the previous bear attack on 13-year-old Joshua Isaacs while they were camping last week. Scout leaders talked to them about the incident and the importance of having a "bear-safe" camp.

In fact, because of Joshua's mauling, Scout leaders made the boys in Bobby's camp sleep in groups. "We had a lot of fun and stayed up until 12 o'clock talking," Bobby said.

On Friday morning, Bobby was sleeping in a lean-to with a couple other Scouts when two bears wandered into the campground about 5 a.m. Several Scout leaders, who saw the bears roaming in the area, tried to scare them away. But one bear ran into the wooden shelter where Bobby and his friends were sleeping.

The bear walked on and over the other boys and started to chomp on his head, Bobby said.

"I tried to gouge him in the eyes with my fingers because I know that if you're attacked by a shark that's what you do. So I thought that might work," Bobby said. "Obviously, I didn't do that much damage to him."

Bobby said he also used his arms to deflect at least one swipe of the bear's paw.

Mostly, though, "I was just trying to cover my head and keep away from him as much as I could. . . . (The attack) was probably two minutes, but it seemed like an hour."

As Bobby fought the bear, adult supervisors yelled and threw rocks at the animal. One adult, "cursed (the bear) and his mother," Bobby said with a smile.

The thing he remembers most about the attack was the smell. "It was kind of pungent. . . . It was just bear."

The animal finally left, but not before clawing another boy, Brian Song, 12, of San Gabriel. Brian received about 10 stitches.

The injuries to Bobby were more severe.

"I reached up to feel my head and I actually felt my skull," he said. "It was all exposed."

Scout leaders immediately dragged Bobby out of the shelter and sent for an ambulance to take him down the mountain to the hospital. While they were waiting for the ambulance, Bobby told the other Scouts not to be scared and "that it was no big deal." He remained conscious and talking the entire time.

"It really didn't hurt," Bobby said Saturday. "It was frightening, but not painful."

Doctors said Bobby was extremely lucky to escape without more serious injuries. They said a major facial nerve was exposed but not severed and the boy's eye barely missed being slashed.

During 3 1/2 hours of surgery, doctors sewed up a gash under his eye and patched his scalp with a skin graft from Bobby's thigh.

"I'm the only kid I know that has leg hair on his head," joked Bobby.

"He's a pretty amazing patient," said plastic surgeon Norbert Collins. "The major (health) concern to me would be psychological injury and you can tell that's not going to happen here."

"Things can happen at homes, too," said Pam Clark, Bobby's mother. "You've got to let your kids grow up and have experiences. You don't want things to happen to them, but by the same token you can't shelter them from everything."

"They were interested in a wilderness experience and they got that in spades," said Bob Clark, Bobby's father.

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