North Carolina runner survives harrowing, bloody encounter with momma bear protecting her cub

Monday, July 24, 2023
NC man survives harrowing encounter with bear
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"She takes her claw and she rakes it across my face and chest," Bill Palas described.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Asheville resident Bill Palas has run the same trails behind his home for nearly 30 years now, and he has never run into any encounters -- until Friday, July 7.

With his home backing up to Pisgah National Forest, Palas said he regularly sees bears and other wildlife, even describing his own yard as being like a nature center.

He runs the trails of the Pisgah National Forest two to three times a week, which has made him quite familiar with the woods.

He said he has never had a problem until that fateful Friday morning.

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That morning, during his run, he turned a corner and saw a cub sitting right on the rail.

As they both caught each other off guard, Palas said the cub took off running up a hill.

"When you see a cub like that, there's usually a mom around," he recalled. "So, I go and I turn around real quick -- and all of a sudden, there I see the momma bear."

He said he began to wave his hands around and yell as the momma bear began to charge him.

She came within feet of Palas before diverting down a hill.

Palas said he thought he was in the clear until he saw the momma bear realize he was standing in between her and her cub.

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"She stands up on her back legs, and here's this head -- her head must have been the size of a basketball -- and it's right here," Palas described. "She takes her claw and she rakes it across my face and chest."

He then took his arm to defend himself and hit the bear, but instead, his arm ended up in the bear's mouth.

He was knocked down on his back and said he lay there waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Palas said in that moment, he thought they would have a battle, but instead, the momma bear just wanted to get to her cub. With her focus on her cub, Palas said he didn't waste any time getting up and running away as fast as he could.

"I was running on adrenaline and shock," Palas said. "I got 20 yards or so down the steep hill and I surveyed myself. You know, how bad am I? All I know is blood is just gushing out everywhere."

He said the only thing going through his mind was getting back to his house and getting help. Luckily, he got home and his wife quickly rushed him to the hospital.

"They brought in a special facial plastic surgeon, you know, 'cause they saw I was all tore up on the face," he explained. "He spent three hours sewing on me."

When he looks back on the incident, Palas said in the moment, he couldn't even think, and that even if he had bear spray, he wasn't sure if he would have been able to move fast enough to get it.

He remembered the claws feeling like razor blades going across his face.

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Bill said that he's not letting this experience scare him out of his backyard.

"It's kind of like lightning rarely strikes someone -- but it struck me this time," he said.

He added that if there's any message for others to get out of this, it's to give bears their space, don't feed them, and don't try to cohabitate with them.

"I just feel so lucky that I'm together. I mean, seeing these three-inch razor claws, I could see them this close to my face," he said. "Man, it's just surreal."

After many stitches, Palas said he's thankful that no permanent damage was done.

Bill said that he spoke to the district biologist about the attack. News 13 also reached out to NC Wildlife Resources and has not yet heard back.

"I definitely have some wilderness street cred now 'cause, how many people do you know that's been attacked by a bear?" he said.

Since healing, Palas said he's already back on the trails running and that he doesn't plan to let this attack stand in his way.

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