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Carnegie Panel Honors Rescuer of Lion Victim

Times Staff Writer

Seven months had passed and he was beginning to forget all about it, Gregory Ysais Jr. of Mission Viejo said Thursday.

“Then I find out the news this morning, and it all kind of came back,” said the 36-year-old electronics technician.

The news was that Ysais was one of 19 people in the United States and Canada honored for their heroism by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh, Pa. Each honoree will receive a medal and $2,500 in cash.

What came back to Ysais was the memory of 5-year-old Laura Michele Small of El Toro in the jaws of a mountain lion at a southern Orange County wilderness park. The bloody sight cost him sleep for a long time afterward, he said Thursday.

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The blond, blue-eyed youngster had been carried off by the cougar last March 23 at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park near San Juan Capistrano. Ysais, drawn by the screams of the girl’s mother, confronted the lion. By shouting and swinging at the cougar with a tree branch he had broken off, Ysais forced the cat to drop the child and flee.

Laura survived the attack but still suffers from partial paralysis and the loss of sight in one eye.

Since then, a second child has been attacked by a mountain lion in the park, suffering injuries that required more than 100 stitches.

“There’s no ceremony,” said Ysais (pronounced ee-SIGH-iss). “I think everything’s done by mail. That’s OK with me. I’m not much for speeches.”

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Ysais said he has no specific plans for spending his $2,500 cash award. “It’s getting pretty close to Christmas,” he said. “It’ll probably go for that.”

Following the attack on Justin Mellon, 6, of Huntington Beach on Oct. 19, the 7,500-acre park was closed while hunters aided by teams of tracking dogs searched unsuccessfully for the mountain lion.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors imposed restrictions on public access to the park, including an order that children not be permitted beyond a picnic area near the entrance, and then only under the supervision of an adult. When Caspers Park is reopened, sometime after Jan. 2, adults must have permits to go elsewhere inside the park and will be required to travel in groups of two or more.

Among the others named Thursday by the Carnegie Commission was Darryl Lindsay Curran, 33, of San Diego, who saved two boys from their burning car in Escondido on Oct. 2, 1985.

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