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Arizona woman says she was attacked by a bear

Posted at 11:04 PM, Jun 19, 2017

A Tucson, Arizona woman is recovering after she says she was attacked by a bear while camping on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

Dawn Martin says it happened while she was sleeping outside on a recliner at the Point of Pines Lake campground.

"It just felt like something hard and powerful and heavy in my arms," Martin said. "And then when I felt him pull my hair, it just felt like a ripping."

The couple says they arrived at the campground on Saturday, June 10th. Early Sunday morning Dawn says she heard some kind of rustling and found a black bear going through a shopping bag. 

Dawn says all of their food was locked in the car, and the bag contained water and things like paper towels. The campsite was clean, the couple said. Her husband Steve Martin had a gun and fired warning shots to scare the bear away. 

Later in the afternoon the couple went fishing. As they were by the lake, a ranger came by and told them the bear was spotted at their campground again.

It wasn't until after 10 p.m. that the bear came back, Dawn said. Dawn says she was asleep, and Steve says he was dozing off. 

The couple was sleeping outside uncovered, not in a tent, on reclining chairs.

"Steve set up fishing wire with cans attached to them, so when he hit it coming in we'd hear it," Dawn said.

"He (the bear) had not been aggressive earlier," Dawn said. "And we both I think just felt like we were prepared enough that if we heard him coming, if he mosied in, we could get him away again. He didn't mosey in."

The whole thing lasted maybe 15 seconds, Steve said, but it felt much longer. 

The bear came up behind Dawn's chair, Steve said, and dragged her backwards maybe six or eight feet.

"I was looking for my gun because it was in her lap and I couldn't find it," Steve said. "So I grabbed the cup there, the insulated cup, and started hitting him (the bear) until he let her go."

"It wasn't painful, I just felt it all happening. Finally he (the bear) let go. And as soon as he did somehow Steve pulled me forward and I rolled onto my knees," Dawn said. "I thought it was my hair but it was actually my scalp I flapped back."

Dawn says the bear grabbed her arms with his paws and she could feel it's mouth on her head. 

After Steve was able to get the bear off of Dawn, he says they were able to get to the car and drive to the nearby ranger station. The bear appeared again near the car, Steve said, and he fired more shots. 

Crews and medics assisting on a nearby fire were at the ranger station and helped until Dawn says she was airlifted to Banner UMC. At the time Dawn says she wasn't in a lot of pain and says she is grateful for the help she received. 

Dawn says one of her tendons ripped out of her left arm and she still can't use it.

Knowing what they know now the couple says they would have just left after the bear made the second appearance at the campsite. Steve says he believes the gun is what helped scare the bear away, and they are glad it wasn't worse. At one point Steve thinks a bullet hit the bear's paw.

"It's been pretty traumatic for us both," Dawn said. "I mean yeah I went through the attack, but he went through watching me be attacked and there's some anxiety."

Despite the reported incident, Dawn say she wants to go camping again. While the couple does enjoy sleeping outside, next time though Dawn wants to be in the couple's motor home that is being fixed up.

"I was in his house. I was visiting his house, he was looking for food," Dawn said. "He just felt like I was going to be it I guess. And he did what his instincts told him to do."

Dawn has been living in Tucson for more than two years and while she isn't working now, she was a nurse in the emergency room for more than 20 years. She currently does not have health insurance and started a GoFundMe for medical expenses.

Jerald Thompson Sr. with the San Carlos Apache Tribe confirmed to Tucson-based KGUN there was a bear attack at the campground last weekend and the bear is dead. Other details were not immediately available. 

Mark Hart with the Arizona Game and Fish Department says if you do come face to face with a black bear, don't play dead or run away. Stand upright, yell, throw things and try to scare the bear, Hart said. 

If it still won't leave, back away slowly and keep your eyes on it, Hart said. If you are out camping secure your food with a bear box or suspend it at least 10 feet off the ground between trees, at least 100 yards away if possible. 

Even if you lock foods in your cars, Hart says, bears have found ways to get inside.