Cougar attack witnesses awarded Carnegie Medal for heroism

Four cyclicts are being recognized for saving Keri Bergere in February 2024.

Four local women credited with saving the life of their friend and fellow cyclist from a 75-pound cougar will receive the Carnegie Medal for heroism.

Erica Wolf, Annie Bilotta, Tisch Schmidt-Williams and Aune Tietz were biking along Tokul Creek Trail near Fall City on Feb. 17 when the cougar pounced and latched onto 60-year-old Keri Bergere’s face and jaw.

“I thought my teeth were coming loose, and I was going to swallow my teeth,” Bergere said while speaking to KUOW in February. “I could feel the bones crushing.”

Her teammates took action and fought the cougar with whatever means they could find, throwing rocks or choking it to save Bergere.

After 15 minutes, Bergere was able to crawl away from the cougar, allowing the other women to pin it under one of their bikes. The woman stood on the bike until the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife arrived and euthanized the cougar.

Bergere was taken to Harborview Medical Center and released five days after the attack with severe facial trauma and permanent nerve damage.

Awarding the “highest honor for civilian heroism” throughout the U.S. and Canada, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission receives nearly 800 nominations per year. Of those, 15 to 18 heroes are selected quarterly to receive the award after the commission reviews information gathered from the person rescued, the responding agency and eyewitnesses.

In June, the commission released the names of 18 recipients for the Carnegie Medal, “awarded to civilians who risk death or serious physical injury to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.” The list includes Wolf, Bilotta, Schmidt-Williams and Tietz.

The award itself — a bronze medallion, three inches in diameter — was first awarded by the commission on May 24, 1905. Since then, more than 100,000 nominations have been submitted and 10,000 medals have been awarded, according to the commission’s website.

Bergere reflected on the accident in an update posted to a GoFundMe fundraiser that raised upwards of $80,000 for her recovery.

“I am so overwhelmingly grateful to be alive,” she wrote. “The scars will be a part of my story going forward. I am alive, and I can live with a few scars. I am happy and grateful, and hopefully, I will be a better person from this experience. I hope I will find opportunities to pay it forward in my lifetime.”

(Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hero Fund Commission)

(Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hero Fund Commission)