Utah man feels lucky to have survived bear attack

6 photos
Save Story

Show 1 more video

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

CARBON COUNTY -- A 78-year-old man was attacked by a bear and saved by his family early Friday morning. The man's daughter jumped on the bear and began beating it with her fists until the animal let go of her father; another family member then shot the bear.

Lou Downard grew up 150 yards from where the bear attack took place. He wanted to show the area to his children and grandchildren, so the entire family went on a Green River rafting trip in Desolation Canyon.

Photo taken of the bear that walked into Lou Downard's family camp. It's believed the same bear attacked Downard early the next morning.
Photo taken of the bear that walked into Lou Downard's family camp. It's believed the same bear attacked Downard early the next morning.

On Thursday, the group noticed an unwelcome visitor: a 300-pound black bear. They fired a warning shot and chased it away. The group went to sleep--some in tents; others, like Lou, on cots outside. The bear returned around 12:30 a.m. Friday.

"It came along, and I was laying on my right side, and it got me there," Lou said. "[I] yelped, ‘Help! The bear's got me!'"

"At that time, I said, ‘Dad, I'm here!' And I just grabbed the bear and started cussing and swinging," said Downard's daughter Becky Harvey. "It had my dad, and I was angry."

Harvey pulled the bear off with the help of Lou's grandson Riley Downard; he shot the bear in the back with the gun he'd taken to bed with him.

**If you encounter a bear**
• Stand your ground. Never back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Prepare to use bear spray or another deterrent. • Don't run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph—you cannot outclimb or outrun them. • Know bear behavior. If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it's not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
**If a bear attacks**
• Use bear spray. Then leave the area. Studies have shown bear spray to be 92 percent successful in deterring bear attacks. • Shoot to kill. If you use a firearm, never fire a warning shot—aim for the center of the bear and keep firing until it is dead. Notify the Division of Wildlife Resources immediately. • Always fight back. And never give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet. -*[Utah Division of Wildlife Resources](http://wildlife.utah.gov/bear/bear_safety.php)*
"It was just more adrenaline and response more than anything. The fear was not there," Riley said. Wildlife officials recovered the bear's body a short ways away.

"The family did everything right," said Mark Hadley, with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "When a bear is exhibiting that kind of behavior, you have to protect yourself."

Lou was flown to a local hospital with puncture marks and scratches on his torso and arms. He was released later Friday morning.

While wildlife officials aren't sure why the bear chose that particular campsite, Lou believes the bear was simply hungry. Tonight, he can't thank his family enough.

"It's a little sore, but I think I came out of it pretty damn lucky," he said.

The bear's carcass is now at a lab in Nephi, where it will be tested for disease.

The family would like to thank the rafting guides at Colorado River and Trail Expeditions for administering first aid, as well as Red Tail Aviation for flying them out of the canyon.


Story compiled with contributions from Sandra Yi, Sarah Dallof and Paul Nelson.

View Larger Map


Related links

Most recent Utah stories

Related topics



Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the KSL.com Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast