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Bear mauls woman in Maryland driveway in ‘rarest of rare’ attack

🕐 4 min read

She heard a dog barking outside and wondered about the commotion.

It appeared to be coming from the yard next door, where her relatives lived. She went to check it out, taking her own dog on a leash with her.

But minutes later, a 200-pound black bear appeared and mauled the 63-year-old woman, biting and clawing her face, head, arms and legs, leaving her in the fetal position in her driveway near Frederick, Maryland. She required nearly 80 stitches.

“I’m being attacked by this bear; he’s coming back. Hurry,” Osborne is heard telling a Frederick County dispatcher in a 911 recording released Thursday. “He’s broken my arms and my legs. I can’t move, and I’m bleeding. And I’m going to die.”

Rescuers took her to the trauma unit of a Hagerstown, Maryland, hospital, where officials said Thursday she was in good condition and her injuries weren’t life-threatening.

It’s the first time a bear is known to have attacked a human in Maryland since the state began tracking such incidents about 70 years ago, officials said. Authorities said they think the woman inadvertently came between the sow and her three cubs.

“This is the rarest of rare,” said Candy Thomson, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “This is really unheard of for a bear to attack a human.”

The attack happened around 9:20 p.m. Wednesday in a heavily wooded area on Irongate Lane in rural Frederick, about 50 miles northwest of Washington.

When Osborne and her husband heard a dog barking, she went to investigate. She went next door to see why the other dog, which belonged to family members, was barking, Thomson said. That’s when the sow attacked.

“She didn’t see it coming,” said Paul Peditto, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Herritage Service division.

The bear came back at least three more times, attacking from different directions. Authorities said they think Osborne eventually fell into the fetal position.

“At that point, she had given up and was hoping the bear would just go away,” Peditto said. She used her cellphone to call 911.

Once Osborne was in the fetal position, it “looked like she was no longer in a position to defend herself,” Peditto said, and the bear retreated into the woods. Osborne’s husband heard their dog barking and went outside as emergency personnel arrived.

Wildlife specialists quickly determined the bear was one of 30 in Maryland with a radio collar as part of a state program to monitor the bear population. It had been outfitted with the collar earlier in the year.

Shortly after the attack, wildlife officials got a signal indicating the bear was in “very close proximity,” Peditto said. They spent the night tracking the sow and setting up a trap. Then about 6:30 a.m. Thursday, as the sun rose, they trekked into the woods.

About 30 minutes later, the bear was found near a small rock cliff, about 100 yards from the trackers. The state’s wildlife management policy is to euthanize a bear after a human attack.

“We fired one shot and then a second shot. Both of them struck her,” Peditto said. “She was dead in seconds.”

They knew the sow had a unique trait – she walked with a limp after suffering an injury to her right-front paw after an earlier vehicle collision, officials said. She was known in the rural neighborhood, where houses sit on two- to three-acre parcels.

“She was easily recognizable because of the injury,” Peditto said.

Wildlife specialists had found one of the sow’s three cubs the night of the attack, subdued it with a dart gun and held it until daybreak before it was released. The other two cubs, all likely about 10 months old, also were spotted and determined to be in good health – and able to live on their own.

Maryland’s bear population was considered endangered several decades ago but has since rebounded. While the bear population is more dense in western Maryland, bears occasionally are spotted in suburban Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

In Osborne’s neighborhood, wildlife officials said bear sightings are common. Officials and neighbors said the same sow that attacked Osborne – recognized by her limp – had also invaded a nearby chicken coop.

“This bear has been seen multiple times by other homeowners,” Peditto said. “She had some interactions in the past there.”

Bears typically aren’t aggressive in nature, but if they are routinely fed by humans, experts say, they will become accustomed to the food. Then the bear “expects to get a free handout and goes searching for the food,” Peditto said.

He said there is no evidence that anyone had been feeding bears in Osborne’s neighborhood.

Wildlife officials said there are cases each year of black bears attacking humans in North America. Typically, attacks involve someone trying to get too close – or accidentally stumbling into the middle – of a sow and her cubs, experts said.

In the Frederick case, Peditto called it a case of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

He said the dogs’ barking likely seemed threatening to the sow, then when Osborne appeared, that “raised the threat level from the bear’s perspective,” Peditto said. The dogs weren’t injured.

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