A Midlothian woman survived a bear attack Saturday at Douthat State Park in Bath County that left her with 14 stitches in her back and 14 in her leg.
An adult female black bear believed to be the attacker was tracked and killed early Sunday. The bear attack prompted the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to close several miles of trails on the west side of state Route 629. They were scheduled to be reopened today.
Laurie Cooksey was hiking Saturday with three of her four children after a day of canoeing and camping the night before. When they reached the Tuscarora Overlook and took a selfie, rain clouds were quickly forming, she said. So about 6 p.m., the foursome headed down the steep, windy trail — with Cooksey and her 19-year-old son Ellis walking ahead of her daughter Hannah Cate, 16, and son Blake, 22.
Within five minutes, Ellis spotted the black bear peering at them from behind a tree about 10 yards away, Laurie Cooksey said. Almost immediately, the bear charged.
They retreated in the opposite direction, but the bear caught up and headed them off.
“He was fast. He was just so fast,” she said.
The bear clawed Cooksey’s back and knocked her to the ground off the trail.
“The saving grace was it was raining hard and the leaves were slippery,” she said.
They both slid in the leaves and she found herself slightly uphill from the bear when it bit her twice on the leg.
Cooksey kicked just enough for the bear to lose its balance on the incline and slide far enough away for Cooksey to make a run for it, she said.
When they caught up with the other two who were unaware of the incident, the bear reappeared. But this time, Blake continually yelled “Get big! Get loud!” as he and Ellis screamed and jumped to intimidate the bear as they had been instructed in materials they received when they visited Yosemite National Park.
It worked. The bear turned around.
“I thought there was no way I was going to survive it,” Cooksey said. “I can’t believe (the intimidation) worked so well.”
Cooksey received 14 stitches in her back and 14 stitches in her leg and as a precaution, tetanus and rabies shots before being discharged from LewisGale Hospital Alleghany on Saturday night, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation said in a statement.
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation law enforcement officers, along with a district wildlife biologist, tracked the bear to a location near the site of the incident and humanely killed the animal about 4 a.m. Sunday.
Test results expected within a week compared with samples from the attack will fully determine if the bear is the same one that attacked Cooksey, spokesman Jim Meisner Jr. said.
The family hikes frequently, including a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru last year, but Cooksey said she does not plan to return to the mountains anytime soon.
“It was very surreal,” she said. “I’m very thrilled that it was me and not (my children) ... I’m really grateful.”
For more information about bears in Virginia and tips on how to be safe, visit the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ website: www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/.