Cyclist Tackled Off Bike And Mauled In The Face By Cougar Saved By ‘Heroic’ Friends

A group of competitive female cyclists in Washington state are recalling the harrowing experience of wrestling their friend free from the jaws of a cougar.

“All these ladies came up with superhuman strength,” Keri Bergere, 60, recently told NPR affiliate station KUOWof her friends who saved her life. “They’re teeny ladies, and I know that the Fish & Wildlife shot the final shot to kill it. But these ladies killed that cougar with their bare hands and no weapons. I’m eternally grateful to each one of them.”

On Feb. 17, Bergere and her friends, Annie Bilotta, 64; Auna Tietz, 59; Tisch Williams, 59; and Erica Wolf, 51 — who are competitive cyclists and have been riding together for the past five years — were about 19 miles into a trek northeast of Fall City, when two cougars suddenly approached them near the Tokul Creek biking trails.

One of the cougars ran off, but the other, that the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife described in a statement as a 75-pound male, launched at Bergere and tackled her off her bike.

“From the time we saw the cougars to the time it took Keri off her bike was about three seconds,” Bilotta told NBC affiliate KING of Seattle.

“One second, I’ll say,” Bergere interjected before Bilotta added:

“So, we didn’t have a chance to face off with them to scare them away or anything.”

Bergere and the cougar tumbled into a shallow ditch near the trail and the cat sunk its teeth into Bergere’s jaw, pinning her face to the dirt.

“I thought my teeth were coming loose, and I was gonna swallow my teeth,” Bergere recalled to KUOW. “I could feel the bones crushing, and I could feel it tearing back.”

“I felt like it was suffocating me,” she said. “I could taste the blood in my mouth.”

Fortunately, Bergere’s friends immediately rushed in to help — and ended up battling the animal for 45 minutes, according to KUOW.

“Erica and Tisch come over with sticks and a rock and were hand-to-hand combat-battling this thing,” Bilotta told KING-TV.

Bilotta told KUOW that at one point she attempted to choke the cougar.

“That was like choking a rock,” she said. “It did absolutely nothing.”

Bergere told KING-TV that she fought back as well.

“I knew every second what was going on. And I was doing my own, poking at it and trying to focus, eyeballs out, and get up his nose and his mouth with my hand,” she said.

The women say that about 15 minutes into the fight, the cat relented a bit and Bergere was able to slip free.

“I just laid there, and they continued the battle,” Bergere told KUOW.

As the other women fought the animal, they said they verbally checked in on Bergere who would respond to their concerns with “a bloody thumbs up,” Williams recalled to KING.

Eventually Williams got the idea to pin the cougar down under one of their bikes, and the women successfully executed the plan. Once the cougar was subdued, they called 911, but as they waited for help, the cat kept on fighting back. The women told KUOW that at one point the cougar even lifted the bike with the women standing on it.

An officer from Fish & Wildlife arrived 30 minutes later, the women told KUOW, he instructed the women to continue pinning down the cougar, and he shot it between the shoulder blades. Although Bergere — who sustained severe face and neck injuries from the incident — survived, the women described the cougar’s death as heartbreaking to KUOW.

After putting down the cat, Fish & Wildlife officers said in their statement that they removed it for examination and later concluded that it had no diseases or abnormalities that might contribute to such a provocation.

The other cougar that ran off, which the agency assumed was either the male cougar’s mother or sibling, was never found.

Fish & Wildlife Lieutenant Erik Olson described Bergere’s friends in the agency’s statement as “heroic.”