Man injured by bear near Aspen recounts encounter: It was all instantaneous
David Chernosky still plans to move forward relocating to Aspen despite a few scars that might make someone else think twice.
Chernosky, who last week went face-to-face with a bear intruder in the early morning of July 10 and nearly lost his left eye, said Thursday that just when he thought he had the bear out of the Castle Creek Valley house, his last decision to free the bruin wound up being his worst.
“I got behind the kitchen island and started talking to it,” Chernosky said in a phone interview. “(The bear) used the lever, opened the door toward it, and went into the garage. I thought it was done. I just figured, ‘Problem solved. I’ll open the garage door and he’s gonna go home.’”
But right after he hit the garage door opener is when all heck broke loose. The rather loud sound of the door opener startled the bear, which ran toward the door where Chernosky was standing.
“It was all instantaneous. He went in the garage, moved away from the door. I hit the opener, shut the door, and he slammed it open again,” he said. “I ran down the hall and went back around the kitchen counter and didn’t see it.”
At that point, Chernosky said he was worried the bear was going downstairs, where his 12-year-old twins were sleeping. The father of five said the bear was very quiet and the house was still.
Chernosky came back from the hallway to find out what was happening and the bear, which Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials estimated Thursday was 325 to 350 pounds, was standing right in front of him.
“We just had that weird small hallway and one of us had to move,” he said. “I described it like a brick hitting me in the face … but, yeah, it was kind of like a baseball bat. I didn’t see it coming. It was so fast. I came around the corner and he was standing right in front of me and he smacked me and that was it.
“When I got hit and spun around and went back around the counter and thought I was done for if it wanted to continue. But I just started screaming at him, and it works. I was really loud, yelling ‘No.’”
He said the bear walked over to the same door to the garage, opened it, and left. Chernosky went over and locked the door, grabbed a towel, and called 911.
He said the bear opened at least four doors while he was with it.
“It was almost like they didn’t even exist,” he said of the bear’s door-opening abilities.
Chernosky is friends with the property’s caretaker, and while he is transitioning to Aspen has been allowed to use the main house on the property.
An attorney from Cleveland, Chernosky has been coming here for the past five years and earlier this year had his license transferred to Colorado and hopes to put up a shingle in Aspen.
He said he is well aware of bears in the area, and the homeowners think the same bear was in the main house and the caretaker’s house last year. He said he is “totally on red alert up there.”
He usually locks the front door, which is how the bear likely got into the house, but can’t fully explain why it was unlocked. That door also has a lever for a handle and is heavy and closes shut after someone enters.
Matt Yamashita, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager, said Thursday that DNA lab results confirmed the bear that was in the house was the same adult bear officials tracked to a nearby mineshaft and euthanized.
Yamashita talked with Chernosky again Thursday morning and said the information Chernosky gave them at the hospital last week matches the details he recalled of the incident Thursday.
“There is still a portion of that is blurry to him, which is consistent with somebody who has been through a traumatic event,” Yamashita said. “The big thing for us, we’ve been getting some calls and going through trying to articulate, people have been asking why we made the decision we made and trying to point blame. … But in a situation like that, we’re not looking to point blame anywhere.
“Our job is to ensure nobody else gets hurt. That’s our sole focus, to prevent any further injury to humans. That’s our only objective.”
Chernosky said his first reaction when he heard the heavy door close just after 1 a.m. was that a bear might be in the house. He said he would have left immediately were it not for the fact that his children were downstairs and the bear also could get into his room.
“I could not only smell him, but he was standing up looking in the refrigerator,” he said of their initial encounter. “I knew when I was laying in bed, and this bedroom is right off the kitchen, he could have walked right into my bedroom.
“My kids were in a bedroom downstairs. I knew I had to keep him upstairs. I couldn’t leave. Otherwise, I would have bolted.”
He said his twins didn’t know anything was going on until they heard him screaming at the bear after it swiped him. The kids made their way upstairs after the bear left and Chernosky was sitting bloodied on the floor.
“They came up and I said, ‘It’s going to be OK. The bear is gone,’” he recalled Thursday. “And they said, ‘Bear? What do you mean?’”
The bear’s first swipe stopped on Chernosky’s eyelid, and doctors told him that about another 2 millimeters and it would have hit his left eye.
Chernosky isn’t sure how many stitches it took to sew up the wounds to the left side of his face as well as his back, but he’s counted “more than 100.”
He goes Tuesday to get the stitches removed, and he’s been told in a couple of months it won’t be as noticeable and within a year it should be pretty well healed.
“The bear wasn’t after me, but it could have finished me off pretty quickly,” he said. “In some way, once I started to yell, it had an ‘oh-s#!t moment’ that ‘I gotta get outta here, I think I hurt somebody.’
“I kind of thought it was the right decision to be calm at the beginning and I think it was the right decision to be extreme and yelling at the end. There’s plenty of information around here on what to do, and it seems like it worked.”
This story was written in partnership with The Aspen Times, through a collaboration powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative — a nonprofit formed to strengthen local public-service journalism in Colorado. KSUT joined this historic collaboration with more than 40 news organizations to share in-depth local reporting to better serve Coloradans.