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Mauled Man May Have Been Fixing Bike

Cyclist's crouching position could have attracted the mountain lion that killed him.

January 10, 2004|Christine Hanley, Kimi Yoshino and Mike Anton | Times Staff Writers

Authorities confirmed Friday that a mountain lion killed 35-year-old cyclist Mark Reynolds, whose body was found shortly after another cougar attack along a popular trail in the rugged Orange County foothills.

It is the sixth fatal mauling of a human by a mountain lion in California and the first since 1994.

Deputies said Thursday night that they shot and killed the 110-pound mountain lion responsible for the attacks, but on Friday they weren't taking any chances. For now, they will shoot to kill any mountain lion they encounter near the trail, Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said.

Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, will remain closed indefinitely.

By Friday morning, investigators believed they knew how the attack unfolded. About noon Thursday, the chain broke on Reynolds' bike, putting the Foothill Ranch cyclist near a stalking mountain lion. Authorities said Friday that when Reynolds crouched to fix his bike, he assumed a posture that probably spurred the lion to attack.

The lion dragged him off the trail, and Reynolds' body went undetected until late Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Thursday afternoon, the cougar, protective of its now partially buried prey, mauled another passing biker. Anne Hjelle, 30, of south Orange County was rescued by her riding companion and other trail bikers as she was being dragged by the head into the brush. She remains hospitalized in serious condition.

With the help of trackers in helicopters using infrared scopes, two Orange County sheriff's deputies shot and killed an apparently healthy, 110-pound, 2-year-old male mountain lion late Thursday. Its paw prints matched those near the scene of the attacks, officials said.

Later Thursday night, a 70-pound female lion was killed by a car about four miles away, but officials do not believe that animal was involved in the attacks.

Wildlife experts estimate that there are 4,000 to 6,000 adult mountain lions in California, including about half a dozen in the Whiting Ranch park area. Attacks, though, are rare. Reynolds is the first fatality in Orange County.

"Often [cougars] are reclusive and don't want to be seen," said Doug Updike, a senior wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. "It's very abnormal behavior. You're more likely to be struck by lightning" than attacked by a mountain lion.

Since 1890, there have been 21 attacks in California -- 19 of them occurring since 1986.

He pointed out, though, that Reynolds was alone when he was attacked -- as are nearly all victims of cougar maulings. And he was probably crouching -- a posture, Updike said, that can convey weakness to a stalking cat.

Mountain lion experts say that while the animals generally stay away from humans, they are more likely to attack small prey, such as a person in a crouched position. To a cougar, the difference between a person bent over fixing a bicycle and a small animal may be indistinguishable. And when they do attack, their tendency is to snatch an object and pull it toward them -- like a cat snagging a toy.

Tests on the animal that was killed may reveal additional clues explaining its aggressiveness.

Wildlife experts say that increased development in wild areas has made such incidents inevitable. "You have more people living and recreating in lion habitat," Updike said.

Among them are mountain bikers like Reynolds and Hjelle, who take to the trails as a way to test themselves. Reynolds' co-workers at the Anaheim office of OMS Sports, a Kentucky-based marketing firm that represents extreme sports athletes, described the account executive as an outgoing, competitive cyclist and motocross racer.

"I can't begin to tell you the amount of grief and pain our company and clients are suffering right now," said company President Fred Bramblett. "I'm numb. This is so unreal. Mark was a very loyal, very hard-working employee here at OMS Sports and will be sorely missed by all of those he came across. Such a tragic, tragic event."

A family friend, Ruth Gaddie, said Reynolds' parents in St. Joseph, Mo., are "taking comfort knowing that he died doing what he loved most."

But, she added, "The fact of how he was killed is very disturbing to [them]. They're in shock."

Cycling, Gaddie said, was the love of Reynolds' life.

He did it in his spare time, on vacations, at races and -- by extension -- for a living. He was such an avid biker that he left Colorado a couple of years ago and moved to Southern California so that he could ride year-round, though his friends say even bad weather in Colorado Springs didn't keep him off his bike.

Reynolds' former boss, Chris Carmichael, recalled spotting bike tracks in about six inches of snow. "I remember thinking, 'What guy is riding his bike on this day?' " said Carmichael, who coaches five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. "At the bottom of the canyon I looked up, and it was Mark. He was just a die-hard."

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