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Lion attack 'unsubstantiated' -- investigation ends

Original post made on Jul 14, 2008

The reported mountain-lion attack in Foothills Park Saturday was found to be "unsubstantiated" by state investigators today, according to warden Patrick Foy of the Department of Fish and Game.

  • Mountain Lion attacks man in Foothills Park

  • Mountain lion eludes professional tracker

    Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, July 14, 2008, 4:51 PM
  • Comments (25)

    Like this comment
    Posted by ATT
    a resident of College Terrace
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Isn't it inhumane to kill an animal? will it not find its way elsewhere?

    Like this comment
    Posted by Freida L.
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Since this mountain lion was sighted in Foothills Park, he/she is obviously a resident of Palo Alto. Since when to we kill our tax paying citizens?

    Like this comment
    Posted by Ella
    a resident of Professorville
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Hurray, there will be no senseless mountain lion bloodshed this time!

    Like this comment
    Posted by Helen
    a resident of Los Altos Hills
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    As detective Arbogast said in "Psycho": "If it doesn't gel, it ain't aspic. And this doesn't gel." Something's amiss here. Either the guy was up to something in the park (growing pot?) and needed an explanation for his scraped-up legs, or PA is doing a CYA for legal reasons since they're unable to produce a dead lion to soothe the public's jitters. Either way, looks like the cat's off the hook. Phew.

    Like this comment
    Posted by A Boomer
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    A hoax perhaps? And the hue and cry that has followed? Grandiloquent statements about the sanctity of wild species, the protection of children, deer as vermin.

    Way too much energy being spent on this one by people who were not involved. Had it not been publicized, it would have come and gone quietly, as is the case when such incidents and fabrications take place in environs more accustomed to actual occurrences.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Gary
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    "Marc Rich's ex-wife Denise gave more than $1 million to Democratic causes and $450,000 to the Clinton library. "

    Web Link

    Rich, who escaped to Switzerland to avoid corruption charges, was pardoned by Bill Clinton.

    Enough said.

    Like this comment
    Posted by A Boomer
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 5:54 pm


    As one of your favorite "hatriots," I especially appreciated the insight you bring to the matter of mountain lions in Foothills Park.

    You have demonstrated to me your superior intelligence on other postings, but I can assure you that the subtelty around Marc Rich and his pardon by Bill Clinton and its connection with mountain lions in Foothills Park was not lost on me.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Mocha Latte
    a resident of Palo Alto Hills
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    I think the hiker was truthful. With the diviorce rate so high it is natural that an aging couger would attack a young man :)

    Like this comment
    Posted by Hector
    a resident of Gunn High School
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Ok, I give. It was lost on me. However one's fancy does lightly turn to thoughts of fabrication and what kinds of situations prompt fabrication. The event happened Saturday afternoon, but the call wasn't placed until Sunday afternoon. So it's not a case of being caught in violation of the Park residency rules (the guy made it out of the park undetected on Saturday). Why do people typically make a call 24 hours later? Because a friend or family member has urged them to. And who is in a position to see scraped up legs? Few friends would question the choice of long pants, but a family member will notice. So we have scraped up legs and a story told to explain them, a story that could've stopped there but was met with such concern by a family member that a report had to be filed in order to keep the cover story intact. Said family member, I'm guessing, is a wife.

    So ... if not a mountain lion, what else could bring a 50-year-old man to get scraped up legs on a Saturday while hiking alone in a park? There's the classic of course: burying a body. Investigators might just check to be sure Mr. Portola Valley's acquaintances and blood relations are all alive and well. There's planting and tending a pot garden (been known to happen around here, recently in fact). And then there's the most mundane and likely possibility: He wasn't alone.

    Hey just having fun, folks.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Gus L.
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    How does a Non Palo Alto Resident access Foothills park?
    I thought it was for Paly residents only, Unless he was a guest of course..

    Like this comment
    Posted by J
    a resident of Menlo Park
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    It was that darn Sasquatch!

    Like this comment
    Posted by Concerned Parent
    a resident of Menlo Park
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Hey Helen, check out my post under the original lion story.

    My feeling is that all you people who think that all wild animals are kind, good and have a right to exist pressured PA to call off this animal hunt and now PA is trying to save face. If the mountain lion (if there was one) attacks again, where will all you mountain lion fans be?

    Like this comment
    Posted by Helen
    a resident of Los Altos Hills
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Ah come on concerned parent, give it a break.

    Like this comment
    Posted by hold him accountable
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    This man should be held accountable for his actions and forced to repay the state the money that was spent on this hoax. I beleive the only way to handle this would be to tie fresh t-bone steaks to his body and make him hike the entire park. Then I'm sure the next time he reports an attack, it would be real.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Manny the Mountain Lion
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jul 14, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    The story and more comments here
    Web Link

    Funny stuff

    Like this comment
    Posted by Aristo Cat
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Jul 15, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Hello Kitty!

    Anonymous Portola Valley man walking in Palo Alto residents only park....... declawed, dehydrated & maybe furless cougar tackles him from behind. Did the dude even get a case of poison oak out of this?

    So who will foot (paw) the bill for this? Mr. Anonymous?!?

    This person needs to be named - & pronto. If he is not lying, we have a really dangerous situation here. And if he is lying - then time to clean the cages @ the Palo Alto Children's Zoo.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Former LAH Resident
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jul 15, 2008 at 7:12 am

    GusL says: "How does a non-resident enter Foothill Park" - very easily. If you live in Portola Valley or Los Altos Hills you just walk in. This guy walked in on a trail through Los Trancos Woods.

    Bicycles go in through the exit gate all the time. You can even drive in through the exit side while the guard is checking the PA residents through the entrance.

    Foothill Park is a huge sieve, unless you put a 12 foot chain link fence around it you'll never keep non-residents out. The backyards of LAH residents back on to the Park. In fact it's quite a game for kids that live up there, how to get into the Park.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Resident
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jul 15, 2008 at 7:55 am

    This guy obviously made up a story to get himself out of a spot of bother with his family and had to file a police report as a consequence. He probably had no idea that it would escalate to this. What he is guilty of is stupidity in the first instance and has to pay for this stupidity. Otherwise, the next time a wife says "where have you been all afternoon" and the husband makes up a story, he knows he will get away with it scott free.

    So, name him, fine him, charge him. He will hold his head in shame and never tell a stupid story in the future (at 50 he should have learned this lesson a long time ago).

    Like this comment
    Posted by Becky Trout
    Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
    on Jul 15, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Becky Trout is a registered user.

    Hi all,

    I spoke with Greg Betts, new interim Community Services Director.

    Non-residents are free to hike into the park --Web Link

    Those who drive in are asked to leave. And, if necessary, the city can charge a $50 fine, but Betts said he can't remember that happening.

    Like this comment
    Posted by hold him accountable
    a resident of Downtown North
    on Jul 15, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I think he would have been better off telling people he had been abducted by a u.f.o. than making up this story about the mountain lion. He caused panic, hysteria, and nearly the death of an innocent animal. What if the police had come across a mother mountain lion and killed her? Then the baby mountain lions would have certainly died as well then we'd be talking about about multiple mountain lion deaths caused by this guy. The u.f.o. story could never be proved or disproved. That's pretty good, I might use that one myself next time I stay out late.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Martha
    a resident of Los Altos Hills
    on Jul 15, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Well, my teenage daughter was harassed by a ranger, just last week, when she went running in there without a Palo Alto ID (which she doesn't possess since she's an LAH resident). So where is that "legal" pathway anyway? Somewhere inside such that you have to violate the rule by entering the gate to get to the pathway that is not violating the rule? Wouldn't that be a hoot!

    Like this comment
    Posted by just thinkin'
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jul 15, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    What in the **** was that guy doing in Foothill Park? He lives in Portola Valley – not Palo Alto. His presence in the park was in violation of the law!
    What led to him reporting the alleged attack?
    Was he covering himself in case he needed medical insurance coverage from a fall?
    Was he under the influence of something (agitated – meth; disoriented – pot)?
    Could this be a case of Munchausen’s syndrome?
    Could he have been looking for a few extra days off work to dodge something there (tox screen)?
    Whatever else – not being charged for a false report, or getting billed for the expense of a tracker being hired or loss of revenue from the park closure – he deserves a citation for illegally being in the park.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Tom Lindsay
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jul 17, 2008 at 2:00 am

    When I read the first article describing the circumstances of the attack my initial thought was that the hiker fabricated the story. It just didn’t add up for a lot of reasons. But the Officials involved believed his story, had closed 2 parks and had called in the dogs and gun, so I decided to give the hiker the benefit of the doubt (although I had many).

    So I assumed in my first comments that the incident did happen and tried to explain why the cougar might have done what the hiker claimed it did. As it turn’s out all or our energy, emotion and time that we spent responding to the bizarre story was a colossal waste.

    Patrick Foy of Fish and Game said they weren’t saying the hiker made it up or that it was a hoax. He concluded, “But we can’t substantiate it (the attack).” I have a simple suggestion to help the substantiation the truth; ask the hiker to take a polygraph.

    I’ll say what Foy is trained not to say, although I bet he thinks it. Given the new information in this article, there is no doubt in my mind that our now infamous, no-name hiker told a REALLY BIG WHOPPING LIE – a long-proven strategy if you want folks to believe something false. It works much of the time, as it did in this case.

    To convince myself of this was not difficult. I looked at the evidence produced to date, or in this case, the lack of evidence. It breaks down like this:

    - After a thorough two day search of the “attack” site and surrounds by trained eyes of investigators and trained noses of cougar-sniffing-canines, absolutely NO evidence of a cougar attack was found and NO evidence that a cougar had been in the area.
    - As one who has seriously studied and taught animal tracks and signs for many years to environmental organizations in the Bay Area, I can say with confidence that if an incident of this intensity actually happened, there would have been at least some physical evidence - even two days after the event supposedly took place.
    - Officials have ended the investigation.
    - The dogs and gun were sent home (Turned out worrying was not necessary. There was no cougar to shoot)
    - The hiker joined the investigative team on Monday and went back to the “attack” site. I doubt if he volunteered for duty. According to the SF Chronicle, “. . .(the hiker) was unable to provide conclusive information”. I imagine this is the pc way of saying his story was weak, inconsistent, and lacked credibility.
    - One of the hiker’s claims that falls squarely into this category was that the big cat rolled/tumbled all the way down the slope and into Los Trancos creek. Everyone knows that when cats fall they have the uncanny ability to land on their feet – most of the time but not always. If by some unusual circumstance, like pushing a hiker off a trail, they may not initially land on their feet, but they still manage to spring back onto them almost instantaneously. Cats, especially strong, agile, athletic cougars do the same. Furthermore, cougars don’t roll and they certainly don’t tumble more than a few millimeters regardless of how steep the slope to the creek happened to be. It is no mystery why the hiker “was unable to provide conclusive information”
    - The clincher for me, however, was the shirt. Foy obtained the shirt the hiker was wearing when the cougar supposedly jumped onto his back and sent him skidding down the slope. Foy delivered the shirt to a forensic laboratory for tests. The results: NO tears from cougar claws, No cougar saliva, and NOT EVEN ONE cougar hair. If a cougar had contacted the hiker’s back with the force the hiker claimed, the shirt would have confirmed the contact. The shirt was silent on the matter which speaks volumes about the veracity of the hiker’s story. He simply made it up. I guarantee if the authorities examined the hiker’s bare back there would also be an absence of any bruising consistent with a cougar slamming into his back.

    The most puzzling question is why did the hiker fabricate such a crazy, unbelievable story? If the man is not insane, delusional, a prankster of the lowest order, or a desperate seeker of fame, then the fabrication was most likely created to cover up something. It’s likely we’ll never know what unless the hiker comes forward and tells us the truth. I’m not holding my breath and would have a problem believing anything he said. But, if we ever do learn the truth, let’s hope it is not as hurtful, wasteful, pathetic and egregious as the lie.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Mom
    a resident of Duveneck School
    on Jul 17, 2008 at 2:29 am


    Your post is quite humorous! Thanks for the laughs! Seriously, I enjoyed reading it and appreciate the creativity, good writing, and lack of typos or grammatical error. Usually the long posts are ramblings but yours was ideal.

    It does make me wonder, though, should Foy have put more thought into the claim before pulling out all stops? A lion rolling down a hill was also a red flag to me.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Tom Lindsay
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jul 18, 2008 at 2:32 am


    Thank you for your kind remarks. I’m glad you managed the length and got a chuckle in the process. A little humor seems almost necessary to relieve some of the tension and emotion a story like this generates.

    I share your question and concern. The cart did seem to be put way ahead of the horse in this case. I certainly don’t envy the officials who had to deal with this particular situation. They were presented with a very bizarre, extremely rare, virtually unprecedented type of cougar-human encounter. The incident, if true, was life threatening and could put the public’s safety at risk. But to pursue and resolve the matter would require multi-agency involvement, personnel, money, time, energy, not the mention, the inevitable public outcry from both extremes. I believe they thought they made the best decisions they could given the information they had and the pressure they were under.

    However, I do think the officials could have obtained additional, salient information more quickly that would have relieved some of the pressure and prompted different decisions than the ones that were made. In fact, this incident might have been nipped in the bud before it blossomed into a full-blown fiasco. I think answers to questions like these could have produced such information:

    Does the incident report which the hiker had to complete, require his signature signifying that his statements are true and that he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if he perjured himself in any way? If so, was this fact emphasized to him?

    Was the hiker thoroughly interviewed by at least two officials at different times? Were both officials proficient in investigative interrogation so the credibility of the hiker and the veracity of his story could be assessed? Did the stories match? Were the investigators the least bit suspicious that he may not be telling the truth?

    Most importantly, was the hiker physically examined to determine if his body showed any evidence that a cougar had attacked him? The minor scrapes and bruises on his bare legs were possibly attributable to a tumble down a hill, but were certainly not prescriptive of a cougar attack. Was the hiker asked to remove his shirt? Did he comply? If he did, were there any lacerations on his back that looked like cougar claws might have caused them? Were there any substantial busies caused by the impact of the cougar hitting him hard enough to send him sailing down the hill?

    We now know there are no claw marks or bruises on his back and the hiker would have had no plausible explanation for their absence if he had been asked. If the above had been done and the facts determined, at this point the interrogators could have sat the hiker down, figured out what was really going on with him and offered a deal. It might have gone something like this.
    We know without a doubt that you made the cougar story up. We will forget that you just committed perjury and almost turned this department and the whole community upside down, but you have to:
    Tell your wife that she has been right all these years – you aren’t 20 anymore and you will quit embarrassing her by acting like it.
    Tell your wife that you got all those scrapes and bruises from falling down that cliff you were positive you could climb because you did it once 30 years ago.
    And sorry, but you’re going to have to admit that you made the thing up about the cougar because you didn’t have the stones to tell her about the cliff and didn’t have the brains to know she would threaten to tell us about the cougar attack you if you didn’t.

    Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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