Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:19 PM on Monday, August 27, 2012

Bear encounter sends Ninilchik woman to hospital

By Michael Armstrong and McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writers

Dipping her feet into the cool water of a small stream near her Oil Well Road home was all Tony Frazier-Scheffler of Ninilchik said she wanted to do the evening of Aug. 11.

Within moments of arriving at the water's edge, she heard a disturbance in the grass lining the bank. The next thing she knew, she wasn't alone.

"A brown bear came charging at me," Frazier-Scheffler told the Homer News.

As the bear bit at her feet and legs, Frazier-Scheffler fought back with a stick.

"I poked it in the eye and it got off me. Then it bit me again," she said.

Frazier-Scheffler continued to beat the animal with the only weapon she had, losing her eyeglasses and slippers during the struggle. Then the animal took off, leaving Frazier-Scheffler painfully wounded and dazed.

"It was pretty intense," she said of the fight.

Her problems weren't over, however. Following the encounter, Frazier-Scheffler was disoriented. She recalled wandering in the creek, crossing it and realizing she was lost.

"It was pretty rough," she said of the days that followed as she wandered around, unable to get her bearings.

"I ate berries and made beds out of fireweed, pulling it over me when I slept so I'd be totally covered, really, really covered so the scent of my bloody leg wouldn't get out," she said.

Finally, she found her way to a seismic road and followed it.

"I kept watching a stupid helicopter flying over me, over and over, and I was waving at it," she said.

The seismic trail eventually led to Oil Well Road.

"I stopped in the middle of the road and sat down," she said. "I wasn't going to let anyone go by without picking me up."

The evening of Aug. 13, Regina Taylor received a call from Frazier-Scheffler's ex-husband, Buddy.

"He was asking if I'd seen her in the past day or two. I said yeah, I'd talked to her and she was going to come over, but you know Tony. She does things in her own time," said Taylor, who has known Frazier-Scheffler for more than 20 years.

People should keep track of friends and family, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

"If someone is missing, you need to call it in," she said. "We can't start looking for someone until we know they're not where they're supposed to be."

On Aug. 14, passing motorists found a bloodied Frazier-Scheffler in the middle of Oil Well Road. They called troopers who then called Ninilchik Emergency Medical Services. She was transported to Central Peninsula Hospital, where she was treated for her wounds.

Trooper Daniel Brom described her wounds as "gnarly," Peters said.

"It's pretty bad," Frazier-Scheffler said. "The one on my left leg is about the size of a silver dollar and goes all the way to the bone. I don't know how deep the one on the inside of my knee is."

Because of the time Frazier-Scheffler had been gone, Alaska Wildlife Troopers did not try to find the bear. Brom said the wound appeared to be a bear bite, Peters said. Frazier-Scheffler also didn't appear to have wandered far, Peters said.

"From what we can tell, she was a half-mile from the road the whole time," she said.

Peters advised people to let people know where they're going, even on short trips away.

"You should always, always be prepared, even if you're going for a short walk," Peters said. "You can never know what will happen in a short amount of time in a familiar area."

Released from the hospital Friday night, Frazier-Scheffler is now back home. She has a walker and crutches to help her maneuver.

"One leg looks pretty much like a balloon, but I can move all my toes which is a surprise," she said.

The 32-foot trailer in which Frazier-Scheffler lives is arranged so she can get around. One thing is missing, however: her glasses.

"I need some new glasses. I can't see," she said, laughing about a brown bear in the neighborhood "with leopard-spotted slippers and my bifocals."

Donations for a new pair of glasses can be made to Vista Optical at Fred Meyer in Soldotna.

For now, however, Frazier-Scheffler is counting her lucky stars.

"Can you believe I survived a bear attack," she said. "Very few people survive what I did."