Emergency calls reveal details in fatal Washington cougar attack

SEATTLE — Recordings of emergency calls after a fatal cougar attack in Washington state last weekend detail how dispatchers calmly struggled to figure out exactly where the surviving victim was — and how worried he was about his friend.

Isaac Sederbaum, 31, of Seattle, was mountain biking with friend S.J. Brooks, 32, of Seattle, on logging roads near North Bend, in the Cascade Mountain foothills east of Seattle, on Saturday when they saw the cougar following them.

Authorities said they responded appropriately by trying to scare off the cougar and even smacking it with a bike, prompting it to leave. But as they stood to catch their breath, it returned, biting Sederbaum on the head and shaking him violently before turning its attention to Brooks, who had tried to run away.


 

Badly bloodied, Sederbaum got on his bike and rode to where he could get a cellphone signal. Recordings released by the King County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday and by a regional emergency service called NORCOM on Tuesday show that the first several calls failed. In one of them, Sederbaum manages to say, “Can you hear me?” and “Help!”

The King County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher calls him back.

“Hi, this is 911. We got a hang-up call. Everything OK?” she asks.

“No,” he replies in a panicked tone. “I got attacked by a mountain lion, my friend did too. I don’t know where I am. I’m trying to come right down the mountain.”

“What mountain are you on?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I was on the logging roads …”

“Listen to me,” she says. “Listen, listen. I need you to hang up and call 911 so we can get location on you.”

When he calls back, he offers a little more information — that he’s north of North Bend — and as dispatchers try to figure out where he is with a GPS signal, he tells them he sees a car, then flags it down. “Can you talk to 911?” he asks a woman in the car. “I got attacked by a mountain lion. My friend is up there.”

As the woman looks at a map and tries to tell the dispatcher how to reach them, Sederbaum wails in the background. “You’re not going to die,” she tells him.

Sederbaum’s voice breaks as he tells another dispatcher, “I’m so worried about my friend.”

“Everything hurts,” he says.

“I know,” she tells him. “But you’re doing a really great job staying calm there.”

Another vehicle arrives — a truck with a man who identifies himself as Matt — and he gives more detail about the location and Sederbaum’s condition.

“He’s really scared, he wants to get out of the mountains,” he says. “He does have some bad lacerations, particularly on his right ear.”

The first deputy arrived at 11:19 a.m., a little more than half an hour after the first call. It took responders an additional hour, traveling beyond a gate on the gravel road, before they found Brooks’ bike and then body.

The cougar was standing on it and fled when an officer fired a shot. Hours later, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agents used dogs to track the cougar to a nearby tree and killed it.

The animal was determined to be underweight. A necropsy is expected to determine whether it was ill.

Sederbaum was released from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Tuesday.

The attack on Brooks was the first fatal mountain lion attack in Washington state in 94 years.

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