Puma’s victim describes attack 

Jim Hamm described the mountain lion’s stare, just before it began to rip part of his face off, as that which an adult gives to a small child.

With Nell, his wife of 50 years, beating it with a branch, the lion and Jim looked into each other’s eyes. "That instant was a clear message from it to me, and it was, ‘behave’ — like an adult glares at a little child to behave," said Jim, who spent two weeks in the hospital after the Jan. 24 attack.

"It was like I belonged to it and that was that," he said. "That was the message I got from that, and then it went back to my head to proceed on with its business."

It was 3 p.m., and Jim, 70, and Nell, 65, had been enjoying a 10-mile hike in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Crescent City. With roughly four miles togo, Jim heard the "strange crunching sounds" of a mountain lion loping toward him.

With Nell 10 feet ahead of Jim, the lion came at Jim’s right shoulder, rolling him over onto the ground. It immediately turned and came back at him.

The attack lasted roughly five minutes. Jim grabbed the lion by its nose and twisted before it "responded by grabbing me by my mouth and glaring at me," Jim said. The lion then shook him and "tore my mouth to pieces," he said.

With Nell hammering the lion with an 8-foot branch, the lion took the back of Jim’s head in its mouth as he tried to poke it with his thumb. Nell then attempted to stab the lion in the eye with a pen. The pen, however, buckled and was ineffective.

"Nothing is working, and she doesn’t want to hit it in the head because my head is in its mouth," Jim said.

The lion finally released her husband when Nell jabbed it with the branch rather than beat it.

The lion, covered with Jim’s blood from the massive wounds to his head and arm, then turned and looked at Nell like "she wanted to fight" before it simply turned and fled, Nell said.

With the lion gone, they struggled a fifth of a mile to a main road before they flagged down a car.

"If she had attacked me we both would’ve died," Nell said. "I was screaming with everything I had; I was furious. I really wasn’t that afraid of her. I knew I just had to get her off of Jim and keep her off."

Jim’s injuries required four surgeries that included a skin graft from his thigh and muscle tissue from his back to replace his scalp, which the lion had torn off. He is still undergoing physical therapy on his right arm and hand.

The couple is closer than ever, and have received accolades for how they survived, they said.

"It turns out to be a happy story in that we succeeded in this," Jim said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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