Attacked By Bear, Teenager Lies Low -- Playing Dead Saved Sultan 14-Year-Old

SULTAN - At first she thought the hairy, blackish-gray figure moving in the brush was a boar.

Then the creature emerged in front of 14-year-old Sage Klevjer and reared up on its hind legs.

"Bear! Bear!" Klevjer remembers screaming as she backed away, tripped and fell. Her walking companion, a 13-year-old boy, ran and hid behind a log.

The bear attacked, biting Klevjer's left thigh and right calf.

Then, Klevjer said: "Some instinct took control of me. It said, `Play dead.' So I did."

And the bear went away. Klevjer wasn't seriously hurt.

The youths' actions Sunday afternoon may have made the difference between a mauling and a close call. In the face of danger, they did exactly the right thing: They stopped moving until the bear left.

But state wildlife officials are at a loss to explain the incident, the state's first unprovoked bear attack since 1974, according to Tim Waters, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The attack occurred about 2 p.m. in a wooded area about 200 yards from the youths' home in the 28800 block of Ben Howard Road. The rural area between Monroe and Sultan is populated by a number of homes and farms.

Klevjer was treated at Valley General Hospital in Monroe and released later Sunday. She was back in class yesterday at Sultan High School, walking with a limp and brushing off all of the attention. "It's annoying," she said.

Most black bears shy away from humans, and attacks are rare. Waters speculated the youths may have startled the bear while it was foraging or resting.

Encounters between humans and bears or cougars have become more frequent as development in rural and semirural areas squeezes the animals out of their habitat. An estimated 30,000 acres of wildlife habitat are lost annually in Washington, Waters said.

In the last half of 1994, the wildlife department tallied 594 complaints about bears and cougars, resulting in 82 animals being captured and relocated, Waters said.

At this time of year, black bears in Western Washington - which are active year-round because of the mild climate - forage aggressively to build up body fat for the winter. That means they may turn to more populated areas for their favorite foods, which include grasses, wood fiber, berries, nuts, insects and small mammals.

And some bears may venture closer to homes for easier pickings, such as trash cans. The bear the youths encountered was seen rummaging through garbage cans at a home early Saturday close to where Sunday's attack occurred.

A team of wildlife agents, led by four bloodhounds and their owners, tracked down the bear just before dusk Sunday. The adult male weighed an estimated 250 to 300 pounds.

The bear was shot to death when it tried to attack one of the dogs and came toward a dog owner, Waters said.

It would have been tranquilized and relocated had it not displayed aggressive behavior, he said.