Man injured in 3rd bear attack in Payson area

PAYSON, AZ - Officials say a Tempe man was injured in a bear attack outside Payson Sunday morning.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department says this is the third bear incident in the area within a month.

Officials said the 30-year-old man was air-lifted to a Scottsdale hospital with lacerations and bite wounds to his head and arm and possibly his legs.

"He had a large spot on the right side of his head that was just a mess, but he was alert and talking which was amazing," said Carly Stoltenberg, a Gilbert resident who saw the black bear shortly before it attacked the man.

Witnesses say the bear crushed the man's tent around 4:45 a.m. 

"It was chaos," said Stoltenberg who was camping nearby when the bear attack happened. "It didn't seem real."

The man's fiancée and a one-year-old child were able to escape unharmed and warn other campers in the area.

Stoltenberg tells ABC15 her husband grabbed his gun and another man with him fired several shots at the bear at close range. The bear left the area and Stoltenberg says it's unlikely the bear was hit by any of the bullets.

U.S. Forest personnel evacuated the campground and wildlife officers from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services are currently searching for the bear.

Another Gilbert resident who was camping with the Stoltenbergs woke up to the bear ripping her tent.

"I didn't hear him, I didn't hear him at all, but I remember the rip definitely," said Kim Bress. "I grabbed my son and my husband stood up yelling at the bear and it was like the bear just kind of looked at us, stood up, then others managed to chase him away."

After ripping Bress' tent, the bear was chased about 50 feet to the area where he attacked the Tempe man.

Tim Holt with the Arizona Game and Fish Department told ABC15 they used a Department of Public Safety helicopter and hound dogs Sunday morning to track the bear down. Also, two teams of Game and Fish officers are on foot in the area looking for the bear.

Officials say if the bear is found it will be "lethally removed" due to its behavior and the need for disease testing.

On June 21, a bear entered an unfinished cabin near Tonto Village and bit a sleeping man on his leg.

On May 31, a bear entered a tent at Ponderosa Campground and clawed a woman. Neither suffered life-threatening injuries.

Sunday's attack also occurred at Ponderosa Campground, approximately 12 miles northeast of Payson.

What may have saved the victim is that an off-duty emergency medical technician was camping nearby and had his gear with him. The EMT wrapped the head wounds with gauze and inserted an IV on the man, according to a witness.

At last check, the victim was listed in critical condition.

Tonto National Forest officials have temporarily closed three campgrounds in the area following the attacks.

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