A bear that bit two people camping near the Durango Tech Center, sending one man to the hospital early Monday morning, was shot and killed hours later by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers.
Joshua E. Barber, 21, was taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center after the incident. He was in good condition Monday afternoon, hospital spokesman David Bruzzese said.
Several others who were camped illegally in the area northwest of the Tech Center, just a couple of miles west of downtown Durango, said they helped fight off the bear, which had tackled Barber and was biting him in the back of the neck and head when they arrived to help.
The latest bear attack, which occurred Sunday night, was in the same area where a bear bit two people May 26. Wildlife officers tracked down the bear after a second man was bitten Monday morning. The bear was shot and killed.
Joe Lewandowski, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the condition of the camp played a big role in attracting the ursine.
“I was just up there. It was disgusting. There were piles of garbage and cans of food,” he said.
The bear may have gotten too comfortable and became more brazen after finding easy meals around the camp, Lewandowski said.
Marcus Shirley, one of several people camped Sunday night in the area just west of downtown, told the The Durango Herald that before the bear incident, a fox had attacked the side of a woman’s tent, and their dogs chased it off.
“Then, not even two minutes after that, I heard my ... friend Josh scream out in pain and ‘help,’” Shirley said.
Barber, who was in a nearby camp, later told Shirley that the bear, estimated at 350-400 pounds, had reached into Barber’s tent and pulled him out.
Shirley and Matt O’Brien ran about 200 feet toward where Barber was lying face down with the bear on top of him. O’Brien, in an interview Monday afternoon at the Herald, said he sprinted downhill in his bare feet, shouting.
“I wanted it to think there was some big thing coming loudly, fast,” O’Brien said.
The bear, which remained on all fours, stepped back about 15 feet. O’Brien said he saw Barber’s head was bleeding, and stepped between Barber and the bear, waving a big stick and shining a flashlight at it.
Shirley took O’Brien’s shirt and applied pressure to Barber’s wounds as O’Brien faced off with the bear, which barely budged. When the bear came closer, Shirley stood up next to O’Brien, they said. Together with two dogs, they held off the bear for “about 15 minutes,” Shirley said.
Eventually, they grabbed Barber and helped him out, with the bear in pursuit. Shirley’s wife, Bridgett Watson, who also was there, in the meantime called 911. O’Brien said Barber fainted into his shoulder a couple of times, but he forced Barber to talk about his family to stay awake.
“Picking him up and carrying him out, we were covered in blood,” Shirley said. “I had black blood all over my face.”
They were thankful that police officers had arrived at the end of the road by the time they got there. As police and medical personnel were helping Barber, the bear sat down in the dirt next to the parking lot and watched, according to a police report.
Durango police notified Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials of the attack, and wildlife officers were at the scene by midnight, according to a news release issued Monday by Lewandowski.
At about the same time, another person was bitten in the same area, according to a Durango police report. At 12:24 a.m., medics and police were dispatched again.
Robin R. Derendy, 33, told officers a bear attacked him through the tent, but he was able to fight back with his knife. He said he believed he stabbed the bear on the left side of his head or neck area, and the bear then ran off.
Personnel from Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also arrived at the scene and used dogs to pick up the bear’s scent. The bear ran up a tree, where it was shot and killed, the news release said.
“Based on descriptions of the bear from eyewitnesses and evidence collected at the scene, wildlife officers were confident that the offending bear was killed,” Lewandowski said in the news release.
If a bear attacks a human, it is protocol to put the animal down, Lewandowski said in a phone interview.
The bear’s carcass was sent to Grand Junction for a necropsy and DNA analysis. Wildlife officials are hoping to determine if this is the same bear involved in the May 26 incident. DNA evidence from the bear involved in the May 26 encounter was gathered after that incident.
After the incidents Sunday night and early Monday morning, other campers in the area were assisted out and told not to return for the evening. The area is known to be a spot for homeless campers.
Seeing a bear on top of a person certainly left an indelible mark on those involved.
“If we hadn’t of made it there in 30 seconds (after Barber screamed), that bear would have killed him,” Shirley said. “This was my friend. He was another human. He needed help. And we were the only ones there that could respond.”
After fighting off a bear in hand-to-hand combat, Shirley said he’s not eager to do so again.
“I’m done with the camping.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. email@example.com. Herald Staff Writer Patrick Armijo contributed to this report.