Woman can’t forget her encounter with a bear
Del Bagwell says she won’t ever forget an adult black bear that came running down the side of the laundry business she runs and bumped into her.
“I was outside on a break sometime after 7 in the morning on Monday. I usually come in that early and after I had gotten things ready for the day, I went out in front for a cigarette break,” she said.
“There were not many people on this side of the shopping center (the Winn-Dixie Shopping Center) that early, because the businesses don’t usually open until 9 a.m.,” she said.
“So I was out there and all at once I heard this ‘screeching’ noise. In a second I knew it had to be a dog because I have two at home and when they’re running on concrete, their claws make the same sound.
“All in a second like your life passing by, this bear came running around the corner and the cement was wet with dew and he slipped and the next thing I know, he runs right into me,” she said.
“He was on all fours,” she said.
Bagwell, who is 52 and a native of this area, said she thought she had seen everything, but never a bear this close up.
“The bear was stunned and he just turned and looked at me and my thought was to step back very slowly and get inside the laundry,” she said.
Bagwell said she had always been told if you see a wild animal like a bear coming toward you, to just lie down.
“I wasn’t about to lie down,” she laughed.
“I just backed up and took hold of the door and opened it slowly because there are big bells on the door and I knew that might upset the bear and when I got it open enough to slip in, I did and yanked that door closed,” she said. The door had an air pump on it, so if she had not pulled it fast, it would have been open for a few seconds and the bear could have tried to get in.
“If that bear had gotten in, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said. “There’s no back door here and I wondered if he was going to charge at the door, but he didn’t.”
There were a couple of people in the parking lot that morning. One walks dogs and the other just walks early in the morning.
“I know the gentleman saw it because he told me later that he did, but the woman just said she heard some noise,” Bagwell said.
She immediately called 911 and within minutes she received a call from wildlife officials who interviewed her on the phone and told her that she did the right thing by moving slowly away and getting inside the store.
Bagwell said she watched the bear run across the parking lot and across Homestead Road. She said there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but the bear caused cars to stop and then the bear ran along the side of the Wachovia Bank.
Bagwell said wildlife sent an officer out to search for the bear along with others, but the bear not found.
Bagwell said she believes the bear was eating from Dumpsters behind the building. There are about four or five food places in the mall.
After she hung up from talking with wildlife officers, she said she began thinking about her family. She has four children, two teenagers and two who are grown and a nine-month-old granddaughter.
“And then I started crying. It just came,” she said. “And that’s not usual for me. I’ve been around and it takes a lot to upset me, but it was just a natural reaction,” she said.
While outside on her break, she was about four feet from the front door of the laundry. Now she says she will walk over near the corner of the building and keep her eyes open and hope it never happens again.
A customer walked in to pick up some shirts today and he laughed and told Bagwell she was a celebrity.
“I didn’t want to be,” she laughed. “I didn’t ask for that bear to come around that corner and running right into me.
“I didn’t fall backwards, I think, because of my natural instinct to brace myself. They told me the bear probably weighed around 300 pounds or more and if he had stood up, he would have been about as tall as I am,” she said.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, seeing a bear in unfamiliar surroundings can be a surprising phenomenon. Even though the Florida black bear has increased in population in the past few decades, it is still considered a threatened species in Florida. As development encroaches on its habitat, it is not unusual for bears to be seen near human populations, but it is highly unusual for humans to come face-to-face with a bear.
However, officials said, if you do encounter a black bear at close range, take the following precautions: Remain standing straight up; back up slowly; speak in a calm, assertive voice; do not run or play dead; and leave the bear a clear escape route.