‘My first thought was I was going to die,’ Barber says

Tuesday, June 2, 2015 3:58 PM

There was a moment when Josh Barber thought the bear was going to kill him. But just a moment. Then, Barber fought back.

The 21-year-old, who has been living at campsites north of the Durango Tech Center, shared his story of the attack with the Herald on Tuesday from his bed at Mercy Regional Medical Center. He contacted the Herald after feeling he’d been misrepresented and his side of the story hadn’t been told in Tuesday’s newspaper.

He was adamant that photos taken at his abandoned campsite showed trash that had not been there when he bolted from the bear Sunday not long after dark. He said there was a small amount of trash in the area, but “we clean up after ourselves.” He assumes that someone piled up much of the trash after the incident.

Barber – wearing a neck brace, and with a large swath of hair missing where doctors stapled together a huge head wound – said he was hanging out in his tent in an area of multiple campsites just west of downtown Durango, reading a book, when the bear attacked.

The bear smacked the side of the tent, stuck its paw through mosquito netting, then began to enter the tent.

“He didn’t pull me out of the tent,” Barber said. “I hopped out of my tent, quicker than anything I’ve ever unzipped in my life. I grabbed my club, I grabbed my sunflower seeds. I opened the bag and threw them at his face inside the tent.

Barber, still healing from a broken toe, sprinted a couple of hundred yards down toward a ravine in the piñon- and juniper-covered area. He hoped to follow the ravine back up to where friends were camped nearby. Those friends, including Matt O’Brien, Marcus Shirley and Bridgett Watson, gave their accounts Monday to the Herald.

He thought he was home free at that point, but the bear headed him off and attacked again. It tackled him and bit him.

“My first thought was I was going to die,” he said, doing the interview while sitting up in his hospital bed.

But he just as quickly decided he wasn’t going to die. He got away and got another 50 yards to the bottom of the ravine before the bear caught him again.

“He tackled me twice,” Barber said.

“(O’Brien) got in the bear’s face. He saved my life,” Barber said. “They both did.”

His friends and the dogs kept the bear at bay, and O’Brien and Shirley half-carried Barber away from the area and to the end of Tech Center Drive, where law enforcement officers had gathered. (Watson had called 911 with her cellphone.)

At 12:24 a.m. Monday, police and medical personnel were dispatched to the area again after another bear attack. Robin R. Derendy, 33, was camping farther up from Barber, according to the report.

The bear ran off, but wildlife officers later were able to track it down with dogs. The bear went up a tree, and wildlife officers shot and killed it.

A DNA analysis is being done to see if this is the same bear that attacked a camper in the same area May 23, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Barber was taken to Mercy, where he was treated for several injuries. The most serious was in his neck, where the bear had bitten him and cracked three vertebra. He had a large scalp wound and a damaged artery, stitches in several places in his chest and other abrasions and scratch marks over his chest and arms.

Before he broke his toe, he’d been in a camp farther up on the mountain. He’d been at his recent camp for about two weeks and said he’s been working hard to clean the mess made by a previous resident. Some of it he was sifting through first to see if there were usable items.

The surrounding area has been used for decades as a homeless camp, and a Parks and Wildlife news release Monday said the area “contains a considerable amount of trash and debris that are attractants for bears.” Barber still was seething Tuesday from the way his camp had been portrayed in the Herald story.

“I live in a camp graveyard,” Barber said. “I couldn’t have created all this trash myself nor would I have wanted to. ... It’s very insulting to me.”

Barber said he’d been taking large bags of trash down into town for disposal regularly. In an interview Monday, O’Brien said he’s also been taking trash away. Barber estimated there are 25 people living “on the mountain.”

“Not all of us up on the mountain are bad apples,” Barber said. “We clean up after ourselves. ... There are those of us who keep the area up there nice.”

Barber said he’s been homeless off and on since he was 14, and he has difficulties here getting an ID so he can get a job. But that’s his goal.

July 2 meeting will look at homelessness in town

The issues of homelessness, illegal camping and an increase in the number of panhandlers have loomed large in the news in the Durango area recently.
The Collaboration of Caring Communities is facilitating a July 2 meeting with law enforcement agencies to discuss the issues and work on solutions, said Eve Presler, chairwoman of the group.
The collaboration, which formed in 2003, includes members of local churches, government agencies and nonprofits, and it works to optimize services and resources for people in need.
An increase in panhandlers downtown has alarmed many residents and business owners. And law enforcement agencies have struggled for decades with the issue of whether to evict homeless people from campgrounds set up around town.
La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dan Bender said Tuesday that the sheriff’s office for the last two years has posted “no trespassing” signs in the area north of the Durango Tech Center. It’s also given trash bags to help people clean the sites. He said the sheriff’s office has evicted some illegal campers, mainly in the Tech Center and Horse Gulch areas.
“We’re holding off taking any actions at this point unless we receive complaints or criminal activity until this July 2nd meeting, so we can have a more coordinated approach on how to deal with the issues,” Bender said.
He also mentioned that during fire season, it can be a safety concern, both for the general public and the campers.

3 Images

Bear attack victim Joshua Barber speaks from his room Tuesday at Mercy Regional Medical Center about the injuries he suffered Sunday night during a bear attack at his camp west of downtown Durango.
Joshua Barber shows the chest wounds he suffered Sunday evening while fighting off a bear at his campsite west of downtown Durango.
Joshua Barber suffered a scalp wound from a bear bite on Sunday evening when a bear attacked him at his campsite west of downtown Durango.