Mountain biker killed in rare cougar attack identified

SEATTLE — The 32-year-old mountain biker killed in a rare cougar attack outside North Bend, Washington has been identified as Sonja “SJ” Brooks.

Isaac “Izzy” Sederbaum, 31, was injured in that attack Saturday, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sederbaum is at Harborview Medical Center in satisfactory condition.

Brooks was an avid cyclist who grew up in Kansas. Friends on Bikes said Brooks started riding bikes as a means of transportation in Montreal and Boston but quickly fell in love with the sport. Brooks was currently living in Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports that Brooks was the director of operations at Hillman City Collaboratory and was a research assistant at William James College in Massachusetts.

A LinkedIn profile also states Brooks had been the office manager of G&O Family Cyclery in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. While living in the Boston area, Brooks was a manager at Boston Center for the Arts and a bicycle mechanic. According to the profile, Brooks got a doctorate in philosophy at Boston University in 2016.

The mountain bikers did everything right

The two mountain bikers did what they were supposed to do when they noticed a mountain lion tailing them in the Cascade Mountain foothills 30 miles east of Seattle, Captain Alan Myers with the WDFW said.

They got off their bikes. They faced the beast, shouted and tried to spook it. After it charged, one even smacked the cougar with a bike, and it ran off.

But it wasn’t enough.

When they got on their bikes again, the cougar returned, biting Sederbaum on the head and shaking it. That's when Brooks ran, King County sheriff's Sgt. Ryan Abbott said.

The 100-pound cougar dropped the first victim and pounced on Brooks, killing and dragging the biker back to what appeared to be its den, Abbott added.

"They did everything they were supposed to do," Abbott said Sunday. "But something was wrong with this cougar."

After the cougar attacked Brooks, Sederbaum managed to get on a bike and ride off, looking back to see Brooks being dragged into the trees, Abbott said. Sederbaum rode for 2 miles before getting a cellphone signal to call 911.

When rescuers arrived, it took about half an hour to find Brooks, who was dead with the cougar on top of the 32-year-old. An officer shot at it, and it ran off. Several hours later, WDFW agents used dogs to track the cougar to a nearby tree where they shot and killed it.

Authorities plan to match DNA taken from the animal with DNA from the victims to be certain they killed the right cougar. They also plan to examine the cougar to see what might have been wrong with it.

Cougar attacks are rare

There are an estimated 2,000 cougars in Washington. Until the 1960s, the state paid hunters a bounty for killing them. Now, it allows 250 to be hunted in 50 designated zones.

While they are sometimes known to kill livestock or pets, and though one even found its way into a park in Seattle in 2009, encounters with people in Washington state are rare.

The attack Saturday was the first fatal cougar attack in the state in 94 years.

Attacks have become more common as people increasingly encroach on the animals' territory. In North America, there have been about 25 deadly attacks and 95 nonfatal attacks reported in the past century, but more attacks have been reported in the U.S. West and Canada over the past 20 years than in the previous 80, according to Fish and Wildlife.

Experts say that people encountering the big cats in the wild should stop and pick up small children immediately. Because running and rapid movements can trigger the animal's prey drive, don't run. Instead, face the cougar, speak firmly and slowly back away — appearing as large as possible, such as by standing on a rock or stump or opening a sweatshirt or jacket.

Keep your eyes on the animal and become more assertive if it doesn't back off. And if it does attack, fight back.

"The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger," Fish and Wildlife advises on its website.