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Boy, 6, Mauled by Cougar in Park Where Earlier Attack Occurred

October 20, 1986

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. (AP) _ Rangers and trappers fanned out Monday in a wilderness park to hunt a cougar that mauled a 6-year-old boy, the second attack on a child this year.

Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Regional Park, 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles, was evacuated Sunday and closed until Orange County’s park department decides whether to reopen it, said park district supervisor Tony Gimbrone.

″The park is closed now, and we intend to leave it closed until we can formulate some sort of satisfactory operations plan,″ said parks and recreation director Hal Krizan.

A meeting with the state Department of Fish and Game and the county Department of Animal Control probably would be held within the next few days, he said.

″Our first priority is to find this cat,″ said Gimbrone.

Around noon Sunday, a cougar snatched 6-year-old Justin Mellon from among several companions on a hiking trail, took his head in its jaws and tried to drag him away before being scared off by the Huntington Beach boy’s knife- wielding father, who carried Justin to safety.

″As I was running back down the trail with him in my arms, he kept asking me ‘Am I going to live?’ ″ said Timothy Mellon, 28. He said doctors told him his son ″is going to be all right.″

Justin underwent surgery Sunday for lacerations on the back of his head, arms, legs and chest and was listed in satisfactory condition Monday at Mission Community Hospital in Mission Viejo.

On March 23, Laura Michele Small, 5, of El Toro was mauled by a cougar in the same park. Her family has filed a $28 million lawsuit contending officials were negligent in not warning people adequately of the cougar dangers.

″I can’t believe they would allow this to happen again,″ said Susan Small, Laura’s mother.

Gimbrone and biologists have said a combination of encroaching development and a 14-year ban on cougar hunting combined to bring the animals in closer contact with people.

″A lot of experts are saying it’s a result of a lot of things, urbanization, concentration of cats in a smaller area, the moratorium on people hunting, more people using backpack areas, more people coming in, not heeding the warnings,″ he said. ″...The (cougar) count must certainly be up.″

The hunting ban, originally aimed at saving the big cats from extinction, was reversed earlier this year by the state Legislature, and the state Department of Fish and Game is drawing up proposed regulations.

Gimbrone said that under state and federal law, the government’s responsibility is to warn visitors of inherent dangers in wilderness areas.

″We have signs posted on every park booth, rest room and bulletin board,″ Gimbrone said. ″...We talk to each visitor as he comes into the park, reinforcing that he’s coming into a rough, rugged wilderness area, and there are certain dangers that we cannot totally eliminate and their complete safety cannot be guaranteed.″

However, Mellon said he saw only one sign Sunday and that no verbal warning was delivered.

The sign ″said to respect the wildlife, the mountain lions, the rattlesnakes and the plants. It didn’t say it was dangerous. We thought the mountain lions were in the back country, not on a trail right in the middle of a campground.″

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