Torrance resident Brian Matayoshi and his wife, Marylyn, were avid outdoors people who loved hiking and Yellowstone National Park. The couple were on their fourth visit to the park this week — midway through a three-week trip — when they inadvertently surprised a grizzly sow and her cubs on a popular trail.
What happened next was, according to bear experts, a “1 in 3 million” occurrence: the grizzly charged Brian Matayoshi, 57, fatally mauling him. The sow then bit into the backpack Marylyn Matayoshi was wearing and hoisted her into the air, dropping her to the ground, unhurt.
Park officials on Thursday released chilling details of Wednesday’s rare grizzly attack, the first time a human had been killed by a bear in the park since 1986. A grizzly rampaged through a campground last year in the adjacent Gallatin National Forest, killing one man and injuring two other campers.
Yellowstone Supt. Dan Wenk said he regretted the loss of life, but added that the mother grizzly had acted to protect her cubs, not in a predatory manner.
Marylyn Matayoshi told park officials that she and her husband were hiking back to their car along the Wapiti Lake Trail about 11 a.m. when they saw the bear and two cubs about 100 yards away. Wenk said the couple had just emerged from a dense area of lodgepole pines into a broad meadow where the bears were.
The couple backed away, and then turned in the direction they had come. When they looked back, the grizzly was charging them, Wenk said. Matayoshi yelled to his wife to run, and she took shelter behind a fallen tree at the side of the trail, according to officials.
Wenk said the sow reached Brian Matayoshi first, fatally biting and clawing him. The bear then approached Marylyn Matayoshi, and picked her up. Wenk said it is likely that because she was playing dead, the bear moved on.
Marylyn Matayoshi rushed to check the condition of her husband, officials said, then tried to call 911 with her cellphone. She was unable to find a signal and called out for help. A group of six hikers heard her shouts and were able to call authorities, who got to the scene in 15 to 20 minutes, Wenk said. There were no other witnesses to the attack, but rangers were seeking to talk to anyone hiking in the area at the time.
Wenk said Marylyn Matayoshi told authorities that in all of the couple’s trips to Yellowstone, they had never encountered a bear.
Family members said they had been asked by the widow not to speak to the media, but a few details emerged about Brian Matayoshi.
A member of the couple’s extended family, who asked not to be identified, said Brian was a retired pharmacist and the father of a pharmacist. The family member described him as a nice man who liked to travel with his wife.
Las Vegas was one favorite stop. The current trip was supposed to last three weeks, with the couple returning next week, the family member said.
Neighbors in the Matayoshi’s well-maintained neighborhood in northwest Torrance described the couple as reserved and nice.
“They are the sweetest people you’ll ever meet and the best neighbors you’ll ever have,” said Kathy Hester, who added that Marylyn often works in the family’s garden.
Kerry Gunther, a Park Service wildlife biologist who specializes in bears, said that based on the information authorities have, the bear probably perceived a threat to her cubs and attacked to defend them. “There is no indication that this was a predatory attack,” he said.
Park officials said there would be no action taken against the animal, which was not collared and had no history of aggression toward humans. Wenk said efforts were underway to track the bear and said hiking trails in the vicinity of the incident will remain closed for several days.
Yellowstone’s grizzlies, thought to number about 600, have been lingering in the park’s lower elevations in recent weeks as the deep snowpack has been slow to melt. Gunther said the bears have just started to move up, away from the more populated areas of the park.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.