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‘Help. Bear’: How a desperate whisper helped RCMP officers save 2 women from a black bear attack

Click to play video: 'RCMP officer talks about rescuing victims of Dawson Creek bear attack'
RCMP officer talks about rescuing victims of Dawson Creek bear attack
One of two RCMP officers who were first on the scene of a bear attack near Dawson Creek is telling a terrifying story of their desperate attempts to save the lives of the two victims. Rumina Daya reports – Oct 7, 2022

“It’s the scariest thing I’ve had to do in 21 years, I can tell you that. But I know any RCMP officer would have done the same.”

Staff Sgt. Damon Werrell with the Dawson Creek RCMP said he still can’t quite believe what happened when he received a call about a bear attacking two women on Monday evening.

He was on his way home from hockey practice when he saw a police vehicle speeding along the road.

Shortly after, Werrell received a phone call from another officer about a bear attack taking place near his home.

“I’m familiar with the area,” he said. “The members also knew I had access to a UTV or side-by-side in order to access some trails.

“The information that we had was that the attack had happened at the Cross Country Ski Club and that the caller had last seen his mother’s head in the bear’s mouth.”

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Werrell said any RCMP officer is ready to jump in right away if someone needs help.

He raced home, fuelled up his UTV, and another officer, Const. Lucas Bielicz, jumped on with him and they sped off as the sun was setting.

Click to play video: 'Expert reminds people to carry bear spray in nature'
Expert reminds people to carry bear spray in nature

“So the call we were going to, I knew the bear was in contact with the victim,” Werrell said.

“When you hear the words ‘the victim’s head is in the bear’s mouth’ and that’s what you’re going to, it’s zero to 60. It’s a high-tense moment and the thoughts running through your head is, ‘This is what my job is and I’m going to save that person’.”

Werrell said they didn’t know where on the trail network the attack was taking place but with the assistance of Bielicz and Const. Ian Whittaker and a paramedic, a small team took off to search.

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“It was pure luck, I think, that we turned onto the correct trail,” Werrell added.

They saw a large pool of blood on the Wolverine Trail and after looking around for clues, Werrell said he heard a voice about 10 feet to his left in the bush whisper “help, bear.”

He said they turned their flashlight to the left and saw a large black bear on top of two people.

“We wouldn’t have known they were there. It was really quiet and we were studying this pool of blood trying to figure out where we were going to go next and I was about to leave but then one of them, I’m not sure who, called out to us, warning us first that there was a bear and that they needed help.”

Werrell said the victims began screaming and yelling and he tried to use the UTV to move the bear away from the women but it wouldn’t budge.

He never made contact with the bear but it would only move a few steps, if at all.

Read more: Bear expert says B.C. attack on family was likely a rare ‘predaceous’ incident

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An expert in bear behaviour said the attack appears to have been a rare example of a “predaceous” attack by a black bear.

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Ellie Lamb, director of community outreach for the Get Bear Smart Society, says that by knocking down the women near Dawson Creek Monday night and then staying close by them for more than an hour, the large boar bear was likely treating humans as food.

The Conservation Officer Service said predatory attacks by black bears are extremely rare.

Werrell agreed that it appeared the bear was guarding the women so they decided they had no choice but to shoot the bear.

“I fired blindly into the grass where I had last seen it,” he said, as it was dark and the grass made it very difficult to see the animal. “I reloaded quickly and it poked its head up again and I was able to fire.”

He added the bear dropped down out of sight but they were not able to see the body of the bear as it appeared to have left the area.

At that point, Werrell and Bielicz decided they needed to focus on the victims and get them to safety.

With a sighting of a second bear nearby, they quickly grabbed the women, loaded them into the back of the UTV and drove as fast as they could back to the road and the waiting paramedics.

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“I was one of the people that were responding that saved their lives, I believe that, yes. There were many other people involved and certainly I couldn’t have done that by myself, no,” Werrell said.

Click to play video: 'Three people hurt after bear attack in Dawson Creek, B.C.'
Three people hurt after bear attack in Dawson Creek, B.C.

The two women were left with critical injuries and one of the women’s sons was also injured when he tried to intervene in the initial attack.

Family members have set up online fundraisers for each woman to help with medical expenses as they recover.

Read more: Black bear attack near Dawson Creek, B.C. leaves 2 women critically injured

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Werrell said he has been struggling with some guilty feelings the last few days.

“I feel bad that it took us so long to find them and rescue them,” he said.

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“I think the one regret that we had that I would pass on to the families is that I’m sorry we couldn’t have been there faster. But looking back, I don’t know how we could have been faster, we did everything as quickly as we could.”

-with files from Rumina Daya

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