Saturday, June 25, 2016


"Riding with some guys.  Lots of bear signs everywhere.  Been VERY wet"

This was the text Peter sent during the Kenai 250 bike race this weekend. It brings to mind another race 8 years ago....

Cool thinking saved bear-attack victim
July 1, 2008 at 11:20 pm

 A sign posted at a Hillside Trails access point in Anchorage warns people after a bear mauling Sunday. A teenage girl was mauled by a bear while competing in an all-night bicycle race.

When Alaska endurance cyclist Peter Basinger rode past the mountain bike dumped in the bushes along a Far North Bicentennial Park trail early Sunday morning, the thought of a horrific bear attack never even crossed his mind. But that's what had happened to 15-year-old Petra Davis.

ANCHORAGE — When Alaska endurance cyclist Peter Basinger rode past the mountain bike dumped in the bushes along a park trail early Sunday morning, the thought of a horrific bear attack never even crossed his mind. He remembers thinking only that someone must have paused to dart into the woods for a bathroom stop.

Then he came upon a person sitting in the middle of the Rover’s Run trail.

“They just turned around and said, ‘Bear,’ ” Basinger said this week.

The person on the Far North Bicentennial Park trail was 15-year-old Petra Davis. Basinger has known her almost her whole life. He coached her in skiing when she was in Anchorage Junior Nordic.

Now, he did not even recognize her. She had a face left unidentifiable by a mask of blood.

Davis motioned behind herself in the direction of the Gasline Corridor near the Hilltop Ski Area.

Basinger doesn’t know why, but he thought she was warning that the bear was still nearby. He picked Davis up and ran down the trail toward a stand of cottonwood trees.

“It felt safer to be out of the zone,” he said.

Then he started trying to figure out what to do next. He knew he couldn’t carry Davis to the staging area for the 24-hour race in which they had both been riding. That was a couple of miles away. He didn’t want to go back toward Hilltop because he thought the bear might still be there.

“She handed [a cellphone] to me,” Basinger said. “She had it in her hand. I thought, ‘Oh, thank God, we have a phone.’ ” He put her feet up to help against shock, cradled her head and dialed 911.

He got a recorded message that the phone couldn’t connect to the number.

When the second call also wouldn’t go through, Basinger called old friend Greg Matyas, one of the organizers of the bike race. Matyas was helping to man the aid station on Elmore.

“I told him to call 911, Petra’s been mauled by a bear,” Basinger said.

Basinger and Matyas have ridden the trails in Bicentennial and Hillside parks for a long time. It was easy to explain to him exactly where he and Davis were.

Matyas and a volunteer emergency-medical technician (EMT) took off toward the attack scene, called 911 and gave dispatcher’s Davis’ cell number.

“911 called me back,” Basinger said. “I started trying to explain to them where we were.”

It wasn’t easy. The park is a maze of unlit dirt trails through the woods. Access to that part of the park is from multiple trailheads. At some point, Basinger realized Anchorage Fire Department personnel were being dispatched to the wrong location. He tried to explain where he was, as dispatchers gave him first-aid advice.

“They were telling me to put pressure on where she was bleeding,” Basinger said. “I kept trying to tell them there was blood everywhere, and it was dark.”

A miracle he found her

Another bike racer, Will Ross, rolled up and offered help. Basinger figures he and Davis might have been on the ground for 10 minutes by then.

“I see a bike laying down in a bush,” Ross said. “Then I see Peter’s bike in the trail with the light still on. I ride a little farther and I see Peter holding Petra, though I didn’t know it was Petra.'”

Ross said his first thought was that there had been a serious bike crash. Then Basinger yelled that there had been a bear mauling.

Ross said Basinger told him to go for the South Bivouac Trail head, up a steep hill a few hundred yards away. Meet the paramedics and guide them in, he said.

“He tells me to make lots of noise,” Ross said. “We didn’t know where the bear was.”

Basinger said he thought for a minute that he’d just sent Ross, a college student home for the summer, “back through where the bear attacked, but he didn’t hesitate.”

Ross said he was pedalling madly for the trailhead, screaming at the top of his voice, when he saw red flashing lights go roaring past on the road. As he arrived in the parking lot, he said, he ran into Matyas and the EMT.

As Matyas and the EMT took off down the trail and over the hill to Basinger and Davis, Ross went out in the road to flag down the Fire Department as it headed back up the hill from the wrong trailhead.

Then, he said, they all waited for Anchorage police to arrive to provide an armed escort to the scene of the mauling.

“It was a little frustrating” to wait, he said, but noted he felt a lot better going back on the trail with a shotgun-armed patrolman at the front and back of every group.

Basinger said he made his first contact with dispatchers at 1:37 a.m., and by 2:18 paramedics had Davis’ bleeding controlled, her body lashed to a backboard, and were carrying her across a bridge toward the waiting ambulance. Basinger went to join police who were intercepting other bike racers coming down the Spencer Loop Trail and directing them off the race course toward South Bivouac.

Matyas had called an end to the race in its 13th hour.

Suddenly everyone was a lot more interested in Davis’ welfare than a bike race.

“It was a miracle that Pete found her,” Matyas said. “He knows her. He knows the family. He’s very coolheaded.”

“A pretty tough kid”

Basinger went to see Davis at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Monday.

“Luckily, she’s going to be OK,” he said. “She’s a pretty tough kid.”

But she does face a difficult time. She had to have three surgeries, including emergency surgery to repair a carotid artery that almost caused her to bleed to death. Her recovery is likely to be slow.

Her parents, Mark and Darcy Davis, sent an e-mail to friends and members of the local bike community on Monday describing the injuries and thanking people for their support. They initially asked that her name not be made public but on Monday evening released her name to local media.

Their daughter, they wrote, suffered lacerations and punctures to her neck, right shoulder, torso, buttocks and right thigh.

“The outpouring of love and prayers from you and our community has been incredible,” the e-mail said. “We are so appreciative. … Despite the severity, she is doing very well.”

Keeping 911 Recordings Public and Online
Posted April 1st, 2010 by Justin Silverman
in Access to Gov't Information Censorship FOIA Newsgathering
When a grizzly bear mauled bicyclist Petra Davis two years ago in an Anchorage park, she called 911 from her cell phone, barely able to speak: "Please help ... bear," she struggled to say. "I can't talk." A fellow biker quickly came to her rescue, grabbing her cell phone and calling again for help: "I have a young girl here who was mauled by a bear and who is in pretty bad shape," Peter Bassinger told the operator. "We need paramedics." 

Davis, then 15 years old, lay in a dark trail, bloodied, bitten and in the words of one witness, suffering "the most significant traumatic injuries that I've ever seen." With the help of paramedics on the phone, Bassinger helped stabilize Davis until a rescue team arrived. The young biker survived and her story quickly made its rounds online and on television, including NBC's Today Show, during which she was heralded a hero.

Both 911 calls (audio here and here) are compelling. Listening to Bassinger direct paramedics to his remote location while at the same time flagging down other bicyclists and tending to Davis's wounds is sensational — but that, unfortunately, is why the Alaska state legislature doesn't want the recording to be heard. A bill now being debated would make the broadcasting of 911 calls illegal, a measure to protect the privacy of victims and their families.

"The private, excruciating moments in the lives of individuals who call 911, they're splashed all over the airwaves for the public to hear," said Jennifer Senette, an aide to the bill's author, Rep. Kurt Olson. "That's not necessarily because there's any significant public value — it's kind of because it brings in the ratings."

Alaska House Bill No. 415 allows the transcripts of such emergency calls to be disclosed, but prohibits the actual recordings from being broadcast on any medium. Those who do so are subject to a $10,000 fine. Several states exclude emergency recordings from public records altogether: Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wyoming. Alabama, Ohio and Wisconsin are considering restrictions as well. These public record exemptions appear to be part of a larger, concerning trend, one that favors individual privacy rights over the public's right to information. The bill being debated in Alaska is particularly problematic because rather than amending the state's public records law, it simply fines those who broadcast legally obtained protected speech. That means, for example, an individual would be fined for posting his own 911 call on Facebook or sites similar to this one could no longer provide real emergency recordings to operators in training.

Still, privacy interests loom large and the desire to spare victims and their families from unnecessary grief following a tragedy is understandable. Consider the well-publicized case of Linda Casey. She dialed 911 after finding her daughter beaten to death in the driveway of their North Carolina home. Later that day, Casey heard the recording on the local news during which she repeatedly screamed “Oh, God.” She vomited upon hearing her voice. "This was not only the most painful thing I have ever been through, it should have been the most private," Casey said.

Despite such sympathetic cases, 911 recordings are in the public interest and should continue to be disclosed. They provide an important check on public safety and law enforcement officers. They are also essential to the way a journalist tells a story. A transcript doesn’t reflect emotion — or in many cases, incompetence — the same way audio does. Only by listening to the recording can one fully understand the scope of Adrainne Ledesma’s 911 call from last year, for example. On paper, the operator’s insistence that the 17-year-old not swear on the phone could be confused with an intention to calm the teenager down. But when actually listening to him scold her for using the word “fuck” as her father suffered a seizure, it becomes clear that the operator was the one speaking inappropriately. Whether caused by maliciousness, apathy or poor training, 911 operators can fail to serve their communities. It is necessary for the public to know when they do and to what extent. Only with the recordings can there be a full understanding of these failures. Professional journalists have a code of ethics. How and when an emergency recording is used should be left to their discretion.

There will undoubtedly be those who abuse the right to these recordings or use them in unethical ways. This site, for example, features a 911 call made by an elderly woman who is murdered while on the phone. It’s chilling and it’s creepy and it’s definitely not what the site calls “entertainment.” Prurient interests will prevail sometimes, but that’s a necessary price to pay for information of public interest.

There are existing mechanisms that states can use to protect the privacy of individuals while minimizing any burden on the public’s right to the recordings. In making a case for not disclosing 911 calls, Daniel Solove of Concurring Opinions points to two cases that favor privacy interests and keep public record policies malleable. In Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589 (1977), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the right to privacy protects not only “independence in making certain kinds of important decisions” but all the “individual interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters.” The 6th Circuit held in Kallstrom v. City of Columbus, 136 F.3d 1055 (1998), that a city couldn’t disclose the addresses, phone numbers, financial information, Social Security numbers and other personal information of police officers because it violated the officers’ constitutional right to information privacy. The fact that a state designates information as public record, Solove wrote, doesn't immunize its constitutional obligations not to violate the privacy rights of its citizens.

These cases clearly support privacy interests and allow states to edit recordings and transcripts before disclosing them. Many states do this. Without identifying information, the privacy of nearly all 911 callers is protected. Unless the 911 call is made by a recognizable figure or involves unique circumstances, it’s not likely media outlets would seek on their own the identities of those involved. They’re not newsworthy. The ability to edit out personal information from the recordings seems to adequately protect most 911 callers while still allowing access. Some states also temporarily withhold any 911 call that is connected to a current investigation. Though the public interest in a crime and need for the recordings is greatest when the investigation is current, the audio is ultimately released. These are reasonable accommodations. 

There’s nothing reasonable, however, about Alaska Bill No. 415. Recordings are kept out of the public’s reach altogether and there is essentially a “fee” when media outlets broadcast those recordings they do obtain. A bedrock First Amendment principle is that "if a newspaper lawfully obtains truthful information about a matter of public significance, then state officials may not constitutionally punish publication of the information, absent a need to further a state interest of the highest order," and the Supreme Court has held in similar circumstances that imposing a publication ban on the media is "too precipitous a means of advancing" the state's interest in protecting the privacy of victims. Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524, 534-37 (1989). Alaska is considering a bill with an incredibly broad scope. That’s a heavy burden on speech for a law that isn’t likely to protect privacy interests anyway. With transcripts still being released, the information that may violate a person’s sense of privacy is still made public. 

It seems the only things to be removed from the public by Bill No. 415 is the broadcasting of a 911 caller’s voice and, of course, journalistic discretion. Because transcripts will still be released, whose privacy is really being protected? Not that of Petra Davis. Although Alaskan legislators pointed to her case to justify the bill, the teenager voluntarily gave up her privacy when she made the television appearance. With victims like Davis on the public stage, the government shouldn't be deciding how to tell their stories.

(Justin Silverman is a CMLP Legal Intern and a third-year evening student at Suffolk University Law School. Justin founded the law school's Suffolk Media Law student group and its blog in 2009.) 

Photo "Who You Gonna Call?" courtesy of Flickr user Laram777, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Grizzly Bear Attacks 14 year old BikerPosted on June 30th, 2008 by Jan Barrett in Alaska News
Early Sunday morning a 14 year old girl was bike riding on a trail in a 24 hour race sponsored by the Artic Bicycle Club in Bicentennial Park in Alaska when she was attacked by the bear. The area borders a national park known for it’s grizzly, and black bears, moose, wolves and wolverines.

When attacked the girl managed to place a 911 call from her cell phone but she couldn’t speak and then her connection went dead. 911 dispatchers could hear someone struggling to breathe before the line went dead. Following the procedure in cases such as this, the emergency service called the girl back. Another biker in the race, Peter Basinger heard the phone ringing and answered it when he spotted the girl on the ground on the trail. All she could do was mutter the word “bearâ€.

Rick Sinnott, of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife biologist said the girl was wearing a helmet which could very well have saved her life because the bear tried biting it when he ripped it off of her head and slung it into the woods leaving teeth marks all over it. Rescuers armed with shotguns had to hike up about two miles before they could reach the girl.

There were about 60 riders signed up for the race. The path used followed a circular route along trails used by hikers, bikers and skiers. The race began at noon on Saturday and was scheduled to end at noon Sunday but it was canceled after the girl was attacked. She was attacked around 1:30 am, which is the darkest time of the morning. Riders could see enough to ride along the trails. The girl’s bike had bear bells on it and she also has a light on her bike and on her helmet. reports that the girl was taken to the hospital where she had to have surgery and was in critical condition. Sinnot said that emergency responder told him that the bear had bit the girl on the head, torso and thigh and she also had some sort of sucking chest wound caused by a puncture to her lung cavity.

Jan Barrett

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