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Cougar Attack Won't Keep Originator From Biking

Mountain lion attacked woman, killed man on Calif. trail

January 14, 2004
(revised 1.15.04)


Despite that a mountain lion killed a man and severely injured a woman in a local protected riding area, one loan originator said he will continue bicycling the wildlife trails of southern California.

For 13 years, Mike Munzing, a California-licensed real estate broker and mortgage originator, has enjoyed biking through mountainous landscapes. As a member of bicycle riding and racing club, Team VeloSport, he organizes bike rides, and for many years organized them at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Although he has ridden in the park almost one hundred times and says one can always count on seeing five or six deer frolicking up in the hills, he has never seen a mountain lion.

That wasn't the fate of two women he knows and a fellow Team VeloSport member, who had signed on to the club about four days prior to the unexpected.

Around 5 p.m. Thursday, the Orange County Sheriff's Department received a call informing them a woman had been mauled by a mountain lion in Whiting Ranch, said a department spokesman in a phone interview Monday.

According to the spokesman, former marine Anne Hjella and her friend Debbie Nichols were riding in the park when a mountain lion jumped on Hjella's back, jawed her by the face and attempted to drag her to nearby bushes. Nichols, responded by throwing a bike at the lion and, according to Munzing, also screamed at and kicked the lion, then hung on to Hjella's feet to prevent it from dragging her away completely. The tug of war went on for about 100 yards. The lion released Hjella and ran away when other riders in the park started throwing rocks at it.

When authorities arrived at the site to look for the mountain lion, they found the body of a man, Mark Reynolds, 35, which was "somewhat disfigured" and partially covered up with branches and leaves, the sheriff's department said.

Nearly four hours later, officials shot and killed a 2-year old male mountain lion of about 110 pounds that came within 40 yards of where the body was found. The sheriff's spokesman added that it has not been confirmed whether the same mountain lion attacked both people, but that it is "highly probable" since the cats are very territorial. Tissue coinciding with human tissue was found in the cougar's stomach and DNA tests are being conducted on the matter.

Munzing said he's sure he'll be "a little skittish" because of the incident, but it won't stop him from mountain riding.

"We can't live in fear of this, (like) we can't live in fear of terrorists," said the mortgage originator. "We can't change our lifestyle because of one attack."

According to sheriff department's spokesman, Reynolds is the first man killed by a mountain lion since 1907, although a woman was a victim in 1994. He added that in the state of California, there have been 10 mountain lion attacks reported, two resulting in deaths.

However, Munzing did admit he'll probably be doing more road riding and work more diligently on getting people to go with him on his rides at nighttime, which is the only time of the day he and many bicyclists have available to train for competitions. Also, he might not play his MP3 player as loudly to be more aware of his surroundings, otherwise, he might just put himself on the menu.

"I might produce pork chops of myself if I'm too obvious about it," Munzing said with a laugh. He concluded that while mountain biking is an inherently dangerous sport, riders do the best they can to minimize the risks.

While Munzing may not be too afraid of mountain lions himself, he was amazed by Nichol's heroic behavior.

"She stepped up way above and beyond what most people would do," said Munzing. "The beauty and true meaning of the story is that this lady did everything she could for her friend."

Hjella was transported to Mission Hospital in critical condition on Thursday where she still remains, but is now in fair condition with bite marks on her face, neck and back, said the sheriff department.

Coco Salazar is an assistant editor and staff writer for MortgageDaily.com.

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