Cyclist's cool thinking saved bear attack victim

July 1, 2008 

When Alaska endurance cyclist Peter Basinger rode past the mountain bike dumped in the bushes along a Far North Bicentennial Park trail early Sunday morning, the thought of a horrific bear attack never even crossed his mind. He remembers thinking only that someone must have paused to dart into the woods for a bathroom stop.

Then he came upon a person sitting in the middle of the Rover's Run trail.

"They just turned around and said, 'Bear,' " Basinger said Monday.

The person in the trail was 15-year-old Petra Davis. Basinger has known her almost forever. He coached her on skiing when she was in Anchorage Junior Nordic.

Now, he did not even recognize her. She had a face unidentifiable in a mask of blood in the 1:30 a.m. dimness.

Davis motioned behind herself in the direction of the Gasline Corridor near the Hilltop Ski Area.

Basinger doesn't know why, but he thought she was warning that the bear was still nearby. He picked Davis up and ran down the trail toward a stand of cottonwood trees.

"It felt safer to be out of the zone,'' he said.

Then he started trying to figure out what to do next. He knew he couldn't carry Davis to the staging area for the 24-hour race in which they had both been riding. That was a couple miles away along Elmore Road. He didn't want to go back toward Hilltop because he thought the bear might still be there.

"She handed (a cell phone) to me," Basinger said. "She had it in her hand. I thought, 'Oh, thank God, we have a phone." He tried to dial 911, but the keypad was locked. He couldn't unlock it. Somewhere in wrestling with the phone, he said, he finally realized it was Davis-- a South High student and an accomplished junior rider on the Kaladi-Subway Cycling Team. Basinger asked her to unlock the phone. He put her feet up to help against shock, cradled her head and dialed 911.

He got a recorded message that the phone couldn't connect to the number.

"I had to have her unlock the phone a second time," he said.

When the second call also wouldn't go through, Basinger called old friend Greg Matyas, one of the organizers of the bike race. Matyas was helping to man the aid station on Elmore.

"I told him to call 911, Petra's been mauled by a bear," Basinger said.

'THERE WAS BLOOD EVERYWHERE'

Basinger and Matyas have ridden the trails in Bicentennial and Hillside parks for a long time. It was easy to explain exactly where he and Davis were:

Come down the Gasline Trail from Hilltop. Go over the big hill. Take the left turn at onto Rover's Run just before Campbell Creek. The attack happened right there, just inside the bushes next to the big opening. We're just beyond, he said.

Matyas and an EMT volunteer took off toward the attack scene, called 911 and gave dispatcher's Davis's cell number.

"911 called me back," Basinger said. "I started trying to explain to them where we were."

It wasn't easy. The park is a maze of unlit dirt trails through the woods. Access to that part of the park is from multiple trail heads on Abbott Road to the south and Campbell Airstrip Road to the north. At some point, Basinger realized Anchorage Fire Department personnel were being dispatched to the wrong location. He tried to explain where he was, as dispatchers gave him first-aid advice.

"They were telling me to put pressure on where she was bleeding," Basinger said. "I kept trying to tell them there was blood everywhere, and it was dark."

'WE DIDN'T KNOW WHERE THE BEAR WAS'

Another bike racer, Will Ross, rolled up and offered help. Basinger figures he and Davis might have been on the ground for 10 minutes by then.

"I see a bike laying down in a bush," Ross said. "Then I see Peter's bike in the trail with the light still on. I ride a little farther and I see Peter holding Petra, though I didn't know it was Petra.' "

Ross said his first thought was that there had been a serious bike crash. Then Basinger yelled that there had been a bad bear mauling.

Ross said Basinger told him to go for the South Bivouac Trail head on Campbell Airstrip Road, up a steep hill a few hundred yards away. Meet the paramedics and guide them in, he said.

"He tells me to make lots of noise," Ross said. "We didn't know where the bear was."

Basinger said he thought for a minute that he'd just sent Ross, a college student home for the summer, "back through where the bear attacked, but he didn't hesitate."

Ross said he was pedaling madly for the trail head, screaming at the top of his voice, when he saw red flashing lights go roaring past on the road. As he arrived in the parking lot, he said, he ran into Matyas and the EMT, who'd driven around from Elmore Road.

As Matyas and the EMT took off down the trail and over the hill to Basinger and Davis, Ross went out in the road to flag down the Fire Department as it headed back up the hill from the another, wrong trail head.

Then, he said, they all waited for Anchorage police to arrive to provide an armed escort to the scene of the mauling.

"It was a little frustrating'' to wait, he said, but noted he felt a lot better going back on the trail with a shotgun-armed patrolman at the front and back of every group.

"They (paramedics) were probably within five minutes of Greg and Erin (a late-minute volunteer EMT for the race whose last name everyone seems to have forgotten in the midst of the chaos)," Basinger said. "I thought they did a fine job."

Matyas said he and Erin didn't think twice about waiting for an armed escort before going to Davis' aid, but added he understands the decision of fire department medics to wait for backup.

"That's how it went,'' he said. "We did what we thought we needed to do. Their response time was pretty reasonable."

'SHE'S A PRETTY TOUGH KID'

Basinger said he made his first contact with dispatchers at 1:37 a.m., and by 2:18 paramedics had Davis' bleeding controlled, her body lashed to a backboard, and were carrying her across a Campbell Creek bridge toward the waiting ambulance. Basinger went to join police who were intercepting other bike racers coming down the Spencer Loop Trail and directing them off the race course toward South Bivouac.

Matyas had called an end to the race in its 13th hour.

Suddenly everyone was a lot more interested in Davis' welfare than a bike race.

"It was a miracle that Pete found her,'' Matyas said. "He knows her. He knows the family. He's very cool-headed."

Basinger went to see Davis at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Monday.

"Luckily, she's going to be OK,'' he said. "She's a pretty tough kid.''

But she does face a difficult road ahead. She had to have three surgeries, including emergency surgery to repair a carotid artery that almost caused her to bleed to death. Her recovery is likely to be long and slow.

Her parents, Mark and Darcy Davis, sent an e-mail to friends and members of the local bike community on Monday describing the injuries and thanking people for their support. They initially asked that her name not be made public but on Monday evening released her name to local media.

Their daughter, they wrote, suffered lacerations and punctures to her neck, right shoulder, torso, buttocks and right thigh.

"The outpouring of love and prayers from you and our community has been incredible," the e-mail said. "We are so appreciative ... Despite the severity, she is doing very well."


Contact Craig Medred at 257-4588.

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