Bellevue bear-mauling victim describes ordeal

SEATTLE — A man mauled by a black bear near his vacation cabin in central Washington says he felt he had to stand and fight the animal to survive the attack.

Wearing a hospital gown and bandages, Bellevue City Councilman John Chelminiak, 57, talked to reporters today at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he has had five surgeries since the Sept. 17 mauling at Lake Wenatchee.

Chelminiak says he wouldn’t let the bear keep him on the ground and he kept forcing his way back up as the bear bit and clawed him.

“I vividly remember being bitten on the head and the sound that makes as her teeth were going into my head and running along the skull,” he said. “It was just a horrendous fight.”

He made it back to his driveway where his wife found him and their daughter called 911.

When Chelminiak was flown to the hospital in Seattle, UW Medicine plastic surgeon Matthew Klein said parts of his face and scalp were hanging off. Doctors had to remove his left eye.

Wildlife agents tracked and killed the black bear a few hours after the attack. They said it was an older female, thin at 148 pounds and in poor condition.

“I do remember her hitting me in my left eye and how that felt. There was just a bright flash of light,” Chelminiak said.

Except for the loss of vision, Dr. Klein said Chelminiak should make a full recovery after two or three more surgeries. He praised Chelminiak for his spirit, will and determination to recover.

Chelminiak, his wife, Lynn Semler, and 11-year-old daughter had gone to their vacation cabin that Friday. Chelminiak says he had taken their dogs for a walk when he heard a rustle in the brush and the sound of the bear rushing him.

They wrestled for a time with the bear clawing him. During a break, he was able to reach his driveway where the bear pounced again on the dogs. He was able to pull them free and they went back to the cabin.

The bruin attacked again, and at one point, when the bear bit Chelminiak in the abdomen, he was able to deliver his best blow with a knee.

At some point the bear stopped. “I had no idea why,” Chelminiak said.

Soaked in blood he tried to move up the driveway and kept yelling, “Bear! Bear! Call 911!”

Chelminiak says he contemplated whether he would make it or not and decided to keep yelling.

His wife didn’t recognized her husband’s voice at first and thought it was a neighbor. When she went outside and found Chelminiak, “I was pretty frightened because he didn’t look like himself,” Semler said at the news conference.

Chelminiak thanked everyone who helped him, especially the medical staff at Harborview.

“With the extent of the injury, it’s a miracle I made it through,” he said.

Chelminiak was elected to the Bellevue City Council in 2003. He previously worked for both the King and Snohomish county councils and once worked as a reporter and manager at KIRO radio in Seattle.

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers

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