FITCHBURG (CBS) – A Fitchburg woman says her usual afternoon walk turned into a life or death situation on Labor Day, when she was chased by a bear.
Damaris Maldonado, who goes by “Mary,” was walking at Coggshall Park on Labor Day when she said she felt a presence behind her.
“I had this gut feeling that I wasn’t safe,” the 61-year-old said.
When she turned around, she discovered it was a black bear, and her natural instinct kicked in: she ran, and the bear chased her. All she could think?
“Survive,” she said. “Just survive. Stay alive.”
Maldonado says she would run, then stop and scream and try to scare the bear before running again. This routine happened about four times before she tried to use her pepper spray on the large bear. Her pepper spray backfired, though, and it was on her hands and in her eyes, temporarily blinding her.
Finally, she got to a spot where she could grab her phone and frantically called 9-1-1. Maldonado can be heard crying and screaming in the phone call. “The bear is coming close to me! He’s coming (indistinguishable)! Oh my God! Please — don’t touch me!” she said on the call. She stayed on the phone with the dispatcher for 28 minutes before police could hike to her.
Seven Fitchburg Police officers were recognized for their bravery in hiking to rescue Maldonado. They encountered the bear themselves, which they tell WBZ-TV is an unusual experience for a “city cop.”
At points of the encounter, Maldonado said she was within five feet of the bear, so close that she could see its tag: number 299. As it turns out, this bear is a familiar suspect with Mass Wildlife. They tagged it back in July when it was seen roaming near the Mass Pike in Auburn.
Marion Larson of Mass Wildlife said the bear’s behavior is absolutely not normal, especially with how comfortable it was around humans. She said while running was a bad call, screaming and waving her arms was the perfect thing for Maldonado to do in the situation.
Mass Wildlife has been trying to locate and capture bear 299 for a month now. The organization offers helpful tips on how to avoid bears on its website.
As for Maldonado, it was a life-altering encounter.
“That changed my life because now I’m more aware of my surroundings when I walk in the woods,” she said.