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Parents of cyclist killed by cougar to sue

5/31/2006

SANTA ANA, Calif. — The parents of a 35-year-old man killed by a mountain lion as he was repairing his bike on a wilderness park trail last year have sued the park's operators.

Mark Reynolds of Foothill Ranch was attacked Jan. 8, 2004, when he stopped to fix his mountain bike's chain along Cactus Ridge Trail in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park.

Authorities determined the cougar that killed Reynolds also severely injured another rider later that same day. Anne Hjelle was saved by a riding companion who yelled for help as she fought a tug of war with the animal over Hjelle's body.

Orange County sheriff's deputies later tracked down the cougar and shot it to death.

In a suit filed March 16 in Orange County Superior Court, Donna and Joseph Reynolds of St. Joseph, Mo., argued that county officials should have known the park was in "dangerous condition."

County officials declined to comment.

Reynolds' death was the sixth caused by a mountain lion in California since 1994.

A similar suit was filed against the county by the parents of Laura Small, a 5-year-old girl who was mauled and permanently disfigured by a cougar in Ronald W. Caspers Park in 1986. That suit was eventually settled for $1.5 million.

Soon after the mauling of Laura and a 6-year-old boy that same year, officials began posting signs at the entrances to all county parks. The signs state: "Mountain lions may be present and are unpredictable. Be cautious. They have been known to attack without warning. Your safety cannot be guaranteed."