Mauling death of West Yellowstone local
Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue volunteers guarded by deputies while providing care
When Brock Kelley got the call that there was a vicious animal attack he anticipated it would be a grizzly bear. He has responded to a few bear maulings in his 32 years volunteering for the fire department and Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue (SAR) in West Yellowstone. Each incident was gruesome, he said – and the recent mauling of Carl Mock just south of Baker’s Hole campground was no exception.
Sheriff ’s deputies and SAR volunteers searched the quiet wilderness, attentively listening, knowing an aggressive bear was in the area and a person was injured and in need of help.
As Kelley and deputies sporting “the big guns” and functioning as a security detail for EMTs scoured the woods, one deputy started yelling Mock’s name.
“What name did you say?” Kelley remembers asking.
“You know him,” was the reply.
It is an entirely different experience to find and provide critical care to someone you know, he explained. The whole experience naturally becomes more personal.
“Your heart sinks to your gut and you feel helpless,” he said.
They had believed Mock had been fishing when he was attacked, so the search initially kicked off by the riverbank. It turned out he was on a trail. He was in bad shape and his condition was deteriorating rapidly, so he could not cry out. When Kelley reflects on it now, he is amazed that Mock was able to make the 911 call at all, based on his condition. Not to mention the anomaly that there was any cell signal to be found in that location.
Big Sky resident Scott Barlow, who is a former neighbor and hiking buddy of Mock’s, went through Yellowstone National Park guide training with him. He said that often when bears are protecting a food source they are trying to kill – and primarily attacking the head of whatever – or whoever – gets too close.
Kelley said he is no wildlife biologist, but Mock’s injuries were suggestive of that behavior.
Barlow said that Mock was adept in the wilderness and deeply respectful of the creatures in it. This would not have been a case of him intentionally edging too close, it would have more been a case of him simply – accidentally – stumbling into a threshold of danger. Bears, it is said, can create a sort of radius around a carcass, an invisible line that should not be crossed.
When he was not working, Mock was in the mountains pursuing a sport that fit the season: snowmobiling in winter, hiking, fishing and dirt biking the rest of the time. A photographer, he often carried his camera with him on his treks.
He had a few brushes with creatures in the woods before, something to be expected when he was out there as often as he was. Barlow remembers one of Mock’s stories: He was snowmobiling deep into the Taylor Hilgards and was taking a break when a mountain goat leapt over his snowmobile. A mountain lion followed a few seconds later, in hot pursuit. He could have reached out and touched them, Barlow said.
As Kelley and another SAR volunteer set to work trying to save Mock’s life, deputies stood guard.
“While we were out helping him, I was told the bear was out there circling us. Law enforcement had guns guarding us – keeping us safe,” he said.
The fact that volunteers regularly head into largely unknown and dangerous situations to save lives makes Gallatin County Sheriff SAR Commander Capt. Scott Secor honored to work with them.
“It’s incredible that our volunteers drop everything, respond to a scene, don’t look for recognition, don’t complain – it’s all completely selfless service to the community,” he said.
Kelley and another SAR volunteer loaded up Mock in the rescue sled and got him to the ambulance. The plan had been to life flight him out, but “weather in the sky they don’t fly”. Snow started falling, so the flight crew jumped into the ambulance and provided care while they sped to the hospital in Idaho Falls.
Mock, who both Barlow and Kelley described as a down-to-earth, great guy, eventually succumbed to his injuries.
Kelley said that kind of loss of a community member and friend hit them all hard.
“My job is keeping people physically safe and protected and I also need to take care of their mental health as well,” he said, noting he suspects there will be some critical stress debriefing for those involved. “We were all shook up but it impacts all of us differently.”
When investigators went to the scene of the incident the bear began charging them, according to a Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks press release. They repeatedly attempted to haze him off. “It continued its charge. Due to the immediate safety risk, the bear was shot and died about 20 yards from the group,” according to the release. A moose carcass was found within 50 yards of the attack, which indicates the bear was defending a food source.