FORT COLLINS (AP) — When a 91-pound mountain lion exploded from its crouched position under a trailer and launched at Larimer County sheriff’s deputy Michelle Ross, she had a split second to fire a shot before the animal ripped into her right arm and tackled her to the ground.
And in that split second, when the powerful mountain lion sprang 10 feet, she had one quick thought.
“It was kill or be killed,″ the 5-foot-3 deputy said of the Wednesday attack. “The minute you think you’re going to die, you die. That cat made up its mind it wanted to kill me. It was six inches from my throat.″
Instead, when the male mountain lion took her to the ground in the Riverview RV Park west of Loveland, she briefly wrestled with it before Larimer County Parks ranger Chris Gardner kicked the mountain lion. The lion fled and was fatally shot a short time later by wildlife officers at a nearby house, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported.
Ross, who said the only other time she discharged her weapon while on duty was to shoot an opossum when she was a Georgia patrol officer, suffered puncture wounds on her right arm. She credits Gardner and her protective vest for saving her from further injury, if not saving her life.
A necropsy revealed the lion had rabies, forcing Ross to receive a series of rabies shots at Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland.
Gardner said he couldn’t shoot at the mountain lion when it attacked because there was an occupied camper trailer in his line of fire. And he wasn’t about to shoot when the mountain lion was biting Ross. So he did the next best thing.
“I had my weapon in my hand so I couldn’t get my taser or baton,″ said the seasonal ranger who is training to become full-time. “We are trained in kicks for people and animals, so that’s what I did.″
Gardner wasn’t the only hero in the incredible story.
UPS driver Alex Rodriguez was making a delivery to a home at 2100 River Rim Road. He was talking to a construction worker at the home, described by the sheriff’s office as a 57-year-old Fort Collins man, and then went to jump into his delivery truck. That’s when he saw the mountain lion on top of the man.
Rodriguez picked up a piece of pallet wood and started hitting the mountain lion, which fled and took off down the hill. Then he called 911.
“I didn’t want the guy to die,” said Rodriguez, who finished his route after fending off the mountain lion, an act the victim said saved his life. The man, who authorities have not identified, received injuries not believed to be life-threatening. He is receiving rabies treatment.
Ross, Gardner and Rodriguez were joined by Larimer County ranger Cindy Kirby and Colorado State Patrol Trooper Scott Boskovich at the press conference held at the sheriff’s office Friday afternoon.
They said they didn’t want to kill the mountain lion but that it gave them no choice.
Kirby said she knew there was something wrong with the mountain lion when she and Gardner saw it come from the house where it attacked the man. It came down a hill and walked directly toward two RV park employees in a golf cart.
Gardner was able to get between the mountain lion and the people in the golf cart and yelled at the mountain lion, which then ran to the Big Thompson River on its way to the RV park.
The mountain lion crawled under the first trailer in the RV park, not far from where children were riding their bikes. The commotion of officers chasing the mountain lion drew the interest of campers, who took video of the tense scene unfolding.
Trooper Boskovich said they formed a human shield between the mountain lion and the residents and gave the animal room to escape down the river. However, he said the animal made a move that forced them to protect themselves and the residents.
“That cat looked at Ross and decided she was the best option, and it was on from there,″ the trooper said. “We weren’t there just to shoot that cat. If it would have gone down the riverbed, we would have just followed it. Instead we had to protect anyone else from getting hurt.″
And for that, Ross is thankful.
“I feel extremely lucky,″ she said. “Don’t tell me God’s not real. He had a different plan for me that day.″
CPW said the incident marked Colorado’s 23rd mountain lion attack on humans since 1990.
Wednesday’s attack was just more than 5 miles from where a mountain lion was seen in a Loveland backyard in June and was one of several mountain lion sightings in Loveland and the Fort Collins area last year.
Wednesday’s attack also occurred less than 10 miles from the February 2019 mountain lion attack of a Fort Collins man who killed the young lion in self-defense at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space.