Kodiak hardware store owner recovers from bear attack

Close view of bear standing with left side to camera in shallows at edge of water. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

Don Zimmerman is a legend in Kodiak. At 71 with a Willie Nelson-like mane of hair, he races up and down Pillar Mountain with the energy of someone decades younger. And now the legend continues. He survived a bear attack on Sunday near a gravel pit on Pillar Mountain, on the outskirts of Kodiak.

Zimmerman, who is also the owner of Sutliff’s Ace Hardware in downtown Kodiak, was able to use his cell phone to call for help. Kodiak police say his call came in at 11:35 a.m. and officers were on scene in about 15 minutes. More help continued to arrive: a state trooper, wildlife officials and medics. They had their work cut out for them.

The rescue team had to hike about a half mile from the road, working their way down a steep incline to reach Zimmerman and carry him out on a gurney which was eventually hoisted with a rope up to the ambulance, ready to rush him to the hospital.

Initially, police thought his injuries were potentially life threatening.

Zimmerman’s son, Dave, said it could have appeared that way because his father was covered in blood. But, he said, while his father remains hospitalized, his condition is improving and he expects him to make a full recovery.

He suffered a bite in the thigh, a puncture wound in his calf, and a fracture in his forearm.

Zimmerman said his father told him he didn’t have time to be afraid, that the bear came out of nowhere, attacked in a matter of seconds, retreated and then returned. He said his father was able to keep the animal away with bear spray.

“He’s been running that same trail for 40 years,” Zimmerman said about his father. “And he’s never seen a bear. He’s probably run that trail 5,000 times.”

Wildlife officials searched for the bear after the attack without success. Volunteers flew the area with drones. Shots were fired to flush out the bear.

Investigators called the attack a mystery and don’t know whether the bear lashed out because it was surprised or whether it was protecting a deer carcass or some other food. But the search did not turn up any evidence of that.

In the meantime, warning signs have been placed in the area. Kodiak Police Lt. Francis de la Fuente urged people to take precautions in the backcountry.

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