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September 28, 2011

EMT treats man after Idaho bear attack

By Zach Kyle
Idaho Falls Post Register

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — John Stiehl was walking quietly in the Targhee National Forest near Island Park on Saturday when his bow hunting partner, Richard Paini, started screaming.

"Bear! Help!"

That got Stiehl's attention.

Only 10 yards separated the two hunters, but a short stand of aspen trees obscured Stiehl's view. He rushed toward his friend and co-partner at TroutHunter, a flyshop and lodge in Island Park. Paini raised his arms.

The charging bear bit Paini's right forearm, breaking a bone. Paini raised his left hand to push the bear. The bear bit the hand, turned and ran.

Stiehl fired a cloud of bear spray, but the bear was already gone.

The hunters walked quickly in the opposite direction before stopping to evaluate Paini's mangled forearm and hand. Stiehl called 911. Since they were near Harriman State Park, he also called Assistant Park Manager Jodi Vincent and Ranger Bob Hirnyck.

"We knew they had the skills to get us out of the woods," Stiehl said.

Rather than wait for help to arrive, they resumed walking.

"Rich showed amazing composure," Stiehl said. "He still had good color. He felt like he was still able to walk out."

After receiving the call, Vincent and Hirnyck loaded into one of the park's Jeep Liberties and set out in the direction of the hunters.

They found Paini and Stiehl 17 minutes after taking the call. Hirnyck, an EMT, bandaged the injuries and stabilized the broken right forearm with a splint. Once in the vehicle, they set out through the woods for Last Chance until the path was blocked by a locked, barbed-wire gate.

Not wanting to waste time hunting for another exit, Vincent rammed the Jeep through the gate.

"We're kind of used to dealing with stuff like that," Vincent said. "It was just a quick decision that had to be made. I was just trying to get him to an ambulance as soon as we could."

The group continued toward U.S. Highway 20 with a hole in the windshield. The ambulance was waiting for them. The ambulance drove the injured hunter to Ashton, where Paini was flown by air ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Paini was on his way to the hospital less than 30 minutes after Stiehl called Vincent and Hirnyck. He was treated at EIRMC and released the next day. Efforts to reach the injured hunter were unsuccessful.

Paini is expected to recover from his injuries, Stiehl said, though half of his left ring finger was amputated when a bone was discovered missing.

The bone was found at the scene of the attack in a bit of Paini's glove.

Stiehl returned to work at TroutHunter on Monday after a hellish weekend. He said investigators think the hunters woke up the bear as it slept.

Tests will conclude whether the animal was a grizzly or black bear. Stiehl said the bear was plenty big, whatever it was.

The attack could have been worse, he said.

"The fact that the bear came in and did not want to stick around, yeah, we're very lucky," Stiehl said.

Stiehl has bow hunted in the Island Park area for 15 years. He said he's shaken by the attack, and he'll sit out the rest of the season. But he doesn't think the incident will keep him out of the woods next year.

"It's certainly an unfortunate accident, but, hey, that's part of living up here," Stiehl said. "We all know they are out there. Certainly this was a little different than what you'd think a bear encounter would be. They say let sleeping bears lie, and obviously we bumped into one. It's not a good thing to do."

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