Victim hopes for bear’s survival

Staunton man recalls frightening encounter with bear

By Joe Beck

STAUNTON — Steven Krichbaum is a survivor, bloodied but unbowed by a bear attack Thursday that forced him to spend several days in Winchester Medical Center.

Now out of the hospital and recovering at his home in Staunton, Krichbaum reflected Monday on what he remembers as the minute of desperation when he and his dog, Henry, fought for their lives against a black bear in the George Washington National Forest in Hardy County, West Virginia.

Krichbaum, 59, walked gingerly up the steps outside his home to the entrance, his gait slowed by wounds to both legs. The bear literally left her marks on him as he struggled to fend her off in a shallow stream channel.

“The image I really remember is her biting my right thigh, and I’m kicking and screaming at her all this time,” Krichbaum said, “and then she bit my lower leg and then at some point she bit my left leg.”

At that moment, Henry, a mixed breed Labrador, cocker spaniel and border collie, rushed into the fray and distracted the bear’s attention away from Krichbaum. Within seconds, the bear had Henry on his back and was burying her muzzle into his chest.

Krichbaum heard his dog make a noise in distress: “It wasn’t like a bark. It was like a scream.”

Bear and dog continued to bite each other. Finally, the bear turned Henry loose and began moving toward Krichbaum again. In the meantime, Krichbaum had gotten to his feet and grabbed a big chisel-shaped rock that turned the struggle in favor of him and Henry.

Krichbaum gestured to a spot near the top of his forehead.

“She got her head down,” Krichbaum said. “She’s real intent. That’s when I hit her really hard in this section of the head.”

“I didn’t want to kill her,” Krichbaum added. “I wanted her to go away and stop biting me.”

Krichbaum remembers the bear circling him for about 30 seconds, then wandering off into the forest.

Krichbaum said the ordeal began when he and Henry “blundered” onto the bear and her two cubs. Krichbaum was in the forest conducting research for a doctorate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at Ohio University. He had come to the forest to check up on the ecosystem of some turtles he had outfitted with transmitters.

Krichbaum said he does not believe either the mother bear or his dog saw each other, but Henry spotted the cubs and chased them into the dense forest.

The mother bear, about 20 or 25 feet away, spotted Krichbaum and zeroed in on him, moving more at a trot than an all-out charge.

“She just rushed in and grabbed one of my thighs and knocked me down,” Krichbaum said.

After the bear left the scene, Krichbaum thought he had escaped mostly unharmed, despite bleeding heavily from several wounds.

“I can see I’m bleeding out but I thought, ‘I’m OK,'” Krichbaum said. “I’m glad this is over. I walk about 30 feet, then it was, ‘Am I even going to make it back to the car?'”

It took Krichbaum almost an hour to reach the car three-fourths of a mile away. Once in the car, he still believed he could make it to Winchester Medical Center on his own.

But he was still a good distance away when he drove past Richard’s Fruit Market on Middle Road. He felt on the verge of blacking out. He turned around and headed back to the fruit market where Eddie and Nancy Richard and Cathy Patterson called 911 and treated his wounds before the ambulance arrived.

Krichbaum said he was worried about the well being of Henry and the bear when he arrived at the medical center. He had no doubts about his own recovery. But he’s not sure he will heal fast enough to resume work as a teaching assistant at the university after Labor Day weekend.

The bear left some gashes on Henry’s left hind leg and in a few other places, but he was energetic and friendly when he appeared in Krichbaum’s living room.

“Henry is doing much better than I am,” Krichbaum said.

Krichbaum said he is “appalled” by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ effort to capture the bear and euthanize it. He guesses he encountered more than 60 black bears during years of conducting research in the national forest, but had never been attacked until last week.

When told of an online petition that was started to protest attempts to capture and euthanize the bear, Krichbaum said he would gladly sign it.

“I’m totally opposed to that,” Krichbaum said of the DNR’s efforts to have the bear put down.

Krichbaum said he will continue to conduct his research as he has done before, but admitted he will consider taking a can of spray that is supposed to ward off bears when they get too close.

Krichbaum said the bear attack was part of the normal risk people take when they venture into a wilderness area. It’s a risk he gladly accepts while scoffing at what he believes are overreactions to bear attacks and other potential dangers in the forest.

“I don’t want to live in Disneyland,” Krichbaum said. “If you want to live in Disneyland, stay home.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com