Missouri couple whose son was killed by a lion say the county should have known of the risk.
By Rachana Rathi
Times Staff Writer
The parents of a 35-year-old mountain bike enthusiast killed last year by a cougar in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Orange County, alleging that officials should have known the park was dangerous.
Mark Reynolds, a Foothill Ranch resident, was mauled by a mountain lion while he crouched to fix his bicycle along Cactus Ridge Trail on Jan. 8, 2004.
Donna and Joseph Reynolds of St. Joseph, Mo., said in a suit filed March 16 in Orange County Superior Court that the county should have known the park was in "dangerous condition" because mountain lions were present.
A county spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Attorneys for the family were not available for comment.
A similar suit was filed in 1986 by the parents of Laura Small, who as a youngster was attacked and permanently disfigured when a cougar pounced on her as she looked for tadpoles in a river in Ronald W. Caspers Regional Park near San Juan Capistrano. The county agreed to settle that suit for $1.5 million in 1993.
The afternoon of Reynolds' death, the same mountain lion attacked another bicyclist. Anne Hjelle, 30, of south Orange County was rescued by her riding companion and other trail bikers as the cougar dragged her by the head into the brush.
Later that day, sheriff's deputies shot and killed the 110-pound mountain lion responsible for the attacks.
Wildlife experts say there are 4,000 to 6,000 adult mountain lions in California, including about half a dozen in the Whiting Ranch park area.
Reynolds' death was the state's sixth recorded fatality by a mountain lion attack and the first since 1994. There have been 20 cougar attacks since 1986, when 5-year-old Small and 6-year-old Justin Mellon were attacked by cougars in Caspers within months of each other. After those two children were attacked, the park was closed to minors until 1995.
As a result of those attacks, park rangers log cougar sightings and signs are posted at each entrance of all county parks warning: "Mountain lions may be present and are unpredictable. Be cautious. They have been known to attack without warning. Your safety cannot be guaranteed."
Grant Curtis, former president of the SHARE Mountain Bike Club, which maintains the single-track riding trails in Orange County, said people who use the parks are well-aware of the dangers.
"There are inherent risks in this sport. We all know it," he said. "This could harm access for everyone, not just the mountain bikers. While Donna [Reynolds] doesn't have a love for the outdoors, I think those of us that do, understand the risks."