Don Jower got a little more than he bargained for at this year’s Labor Day Festival of the Arts when he spooked what he estimated to be a 150-pound bear and was left with at least one puncture wound in his right bicep. (Photo:Kirkner)
Artist Don Jower has participated in the annual Labor Day Festival of the Arts at Sam’s Woodsite for approximately 10 years, but this weekend may be the one that sticks out in his mind for years to come.
On Saturday night Jower took a trip to the porta potties just around dusk. As the artist was heading back to his booth and camp spot he surprised a bear feeding on food left out by one of the event’s food vendors. The next thing he knew he was on the ground with a wound on his arm.
“I think I spooked it and it knocked me over trying to get away,” Jower said. “I wasn’t making any noise so it didn’t know I was coming.” According to Jower, many on scene thought the punctures on his bicep were from a bite, but he thinks it must have been a claw. The incident happened so quickly, however, he can’t be sure.
“If he had bite me I would think he would have held on,” he explained. Nonetheless, he did allow an on scene Mammoth Lakes Police Officer to take him to Mammoth Hospital to have the wound flushed and cleaned. Mono County Paramedics and Mammoth Lakes Fire Department were also on scene, but Jower refused a ride in the ambulance and had no interest in filing a report.
Later that same evening Jower was sitting at his booth when the bear returned and was sniffing around about three feet from him.
“I thought, ‘what, are you gloating?’,” Jower said with a smile. He made some noise and the bear ran away immediately.
Jower feels that even though there are two wounds on his arm, one on the front of his bicep and one on the back, only the one on the front is from the bear.
“I think the one on the back is from the picnic table that I hit when I fell,” he said. “It’s bruised and scratched. If it is a bite I’ll have to get checked for rabies.”
Town Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles, who was on scene Saturday night, got an initial look at the wound and told The Sheet it looked like Jower had been “nipped on the bicep.” Searles felt the bear had been enticed to the Woodsite by the food to which Jower agreed. Searles told Jower on Sunday that there has never been a recorded case of a black bear with rabies in California, in reference to his concerns.
“This is an extremely rare event,” Searles explained, referring to the Saturday night incident. He commented on how calm Jower had been. “He thought he had just been hurt by the table and he simply put a band-aid on the wound,” he said.
“If he [the bear] had chewed off my arm I might not be so happy today,” Jower said during his Sunday meeting with Searles.
Jower explained that once professionally flushed and cleaned by a doctor, the dressing on his wounds did have to be changed a few hours later and a coagulate added to the wound because of the large amount of blood still seeping from it.
Searles made a visit to the festival on Sunday to talk to people about keeping their food contained. According to Jower it is not the first time he has seen food left out.
The offending restaurant vendor, Hawaiian Delight, was cited and will have to either pay a fine or show up in court to fight the ticket.
MLPD Sergeant Karen Smart issued the citation and likened it to a speeding ticket. She explained that it was a fine only, with no criminal penalty. The Town’s portion of the fine is $150-$200 but there are additional court and county fees added on top, according to Smart.
Smart’s take on the incident was that both man and bear had been surprised by each other’s presence. In their efforts to get away from each other, Jower had received his injury.
“No one should be describing this as an attack,” she said.
Smart felt that events at the Woodsite should be revamped, especially since food is a part of all of them. She hoped to get a meeting together with event planners, the Mono County Health Department and other interested parties to update the instructions for food vendors.
While Jower said the occurrence would not deter him from coming back to the festival in the future, he was also concerned that the bear could continue to cause trouble.
“If he’s this bold as a youngster he could be a problem as he gets older and bigger,” he said.