Eagle River man hailed as hero after JBER bear attack
An Eagle River man’s quick thinking — and a can of bear spray — may have saved his friend’s life during a harrowing bear attack Saturday, June 24 on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Cyclist Alex Ippoliti was riding with his friend, James Fredrick, on a road near Clunie Like on base Saturday morning when they heard some rustling in the bushes. Ippoliti said they slowed down, but weren’t overly concerned with the noises.
“It could have been any kind of animal,” he said Monday.
Within seconds, Fredrick was underneath an angry mama bear.
“A brown bear just charged out of the bushes,” Ippoliti recalled. “It attacked him and pulled him off the bike.”
Ippoliti yelled at the sow, but it continued to attack Fredrick.
“So I took my bear spray out of my bike bag and went toward her and yelled at her,” he said.
The bear ended its attack on Fredrick and turned its attention to Ippoliti, who by then was aiming a can of pressurized pepper spray at the bruin.
“I sprayed her and she went back into the trees,” he said.
Ippoliti said he emptied the can of spray at the bear, but not intentionally; he’s not sure if the trigger got stuck open or if the can was designed to spray its entire contents in one shot. Either way, he’s sure the spray is what ended the attack.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Ippoliti said he took a bear safety course at REI when he and his wife moved to Alaska in 2011. During the course, he was required to spray inert cans of bear spray, a practice experts encourage. Ippoliti said he thinks the training helped him keep a clear head while aiming and unleashing the cloud on the bear.
“It was enough where at least I remembered there was a safety cover,” he said.
After the bear retreated, Ippoliti helped Fredrick move about a quarter-mile from the attack site. By that time, medics arrived on the busy road to help tend to Fredrick’s wounds.
“He was conscious and talking to me,” Ippoliti recalled.
Fredrick was taken to Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where he is expected to make a full recovery. On Sunday, the injured man posted a photo on Facebook thanking his friend for helping during the attack.
“This dude saved my life yesterday,” wrote Fredrick, heavily bandaged and smiling while giving a “thumbs up” from his hospital bed.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh said Sunday that the attack is believed to have been defensive.
“The sow brown bear did what sow brown bears sometimes do,” Marsh said. “She lashed out defensively.”
Ippoliti said that after the attack he and Fredrick noticed a bear cub in tree near where the incident took place.
“The cub was only like 50 feet away,” he said.
A frequent rider on base, Ippoliti said he’s never seen a brown bear there, but has seen plenty of black bears and moose. The attack was likely a case of bad timing, he said.
“We weren’t on a trail, we were on a wide road,” he said.
As luck — if you can call it that — would have it, the bear encounter wasn’t the only one of the weekend for the Ippoliti family. While riding in Sunday’s AMC Double Down mountain bike race Sunday at Kincaid Park, Ippoliti said his son and a group of racers came face-to-snout with a bruin.
That encounter ended as most bear sightings in Alaska do — peacefully. However, Ippoliti said he’s thankful to have been trained in what to do when a worse case scenario does happen.
“You just have to try to be prepared,” he said.
Ippoliti said he has no plans to let the bear encounters keep him from getting outdoors. However, he’s had enough close calls for one summer.
“This is kind of ridiculous,” he said.
The mauling was the latest in what has been a brutal string of conflicts between man and beast involving Chugiak-Eagle River residents this summer. Among the most notable attacks were a May 22 moose attack that left an Eagle River woman hospitalized with severely broken ribs and a brown bear attack June 14 that left three people injured on a trail near the Eagle River Campground.
Black bears are believed to have killed two people in Alaska this summer. One victim was 16-year-old Patrick Cooper, who died on Bird Ridge after completing the youth portion of the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb June 18. That attack led Fish and Game to shoot four black bears in the area south of Anchorage, including one believed to be the bear that attacked Cooper.
On June 19, an Anchorage woman who grew up in Eagle River died after she was mauled by a black bear near the Pogo Mine in Interior Alaska. According to Fish and Game, two employees of the mine were attacked while working in the field. One of them, 27-year-old Erin Johnson, was killed. To read Johnson’s story, click here.