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Durango woman killed in bear attack is identified

Autopsy shows ‘extensive damage,’ perforating injury to the neck

A 39-year-old Durango woman who was killed Friday night in a bear attack was identified Tuesday as Laney Malavolta.

“While Laney’s physical presence was suddenly taken from this earth, all that know and love her can take comfort; Laney’s soul will live forever in her favorite place, doing her favorite thing,” said her family and Justin Rangel, her boyfriend, in a joint statement Tuesday. “She would not have wanted it any other way.”

La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith released the identity and autopsy results Tuesday.

Malavolta was found dead Friday west of the 5800 block of County Road 203, in a wooded area near Whispering Pines Bible Camp, north of Durango and near Trimble Lane (County Road 252), according to the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

During an examination Saturday night, a state wildlife pathologist found human remains inside the stomachs of two black bears found nearby.

Both the necropsy results from the bears and the autopsy results performed on Malavolta confirmed Malavolta’s death was the result of a bear attack, Smith said.

“They grabbed her by the neck,” she said. “It was extensive damage.”

The official cause of death was a perforating injury to the neck. It was ruled an accident by Mike Arnall, who conducted the autopsy, and Smith, who assisted.

Malavolta was apparently on a walk with her dogs, according to the Sheriff’s Office, which spoke with Rangel. Rangel told the Sheriff’s Office he returned home about 8:30 p.m. and found the two dogs outside their home, but Malavolta was missing. He searched for her and found her body about 9:30 p.m. He then called 911 to report the incident.

Wildlife officers suspected a bear attack based on the trauma and obvious signs of consumption on the body and an abundance of bear scat and hair at the scene.

Three bears, the sow (female bear) and her two yearlings, were discovered near the woman’s body after a search by Colorado Parks & Wildlife officers, which included a team of U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services trained tracking dogs.

No human remains were found in the stomach of a second yearling euthanized with the other two.

Malavolta worked as a wine sales representative with the Republic National Distributing Co.

An experienced and knowledgeable operator in the backcountry, Malavolta’s “greatest joy” was to be outdoors, the family’s statement said.

Sparse snippets of Malavolta’s life could be gathered from social media. Her father’s girlfriend, Kim Strain, asked for prayers and support for the family.

“She will be sorely missed by many,” Strain said in a social media post Monday. “We love you Laney.” Her father was identified as Steve Malavolta.

The post has since been removed.

Bear attacks are considered extremely rare in Colorado. There were about 85 recorded attacks on humans between 1960 and 2020. Three of those were fatal. Malavolta’s death is the fourth fatal attack in the same time range, according to CPW records.

“Of course, it’s a frightening and a tragic incident,” said Rebecca Ferrell, CPW spokesperson. “We don’t want this to stop people from going out and doing the things you love. In Colorado, we share space with wildlife, so just take the small recommended precautions to be bear aware. If you do that, odds are an encounter is never going to be something you’ll have to deal with.”

Diane Doney, who lives off County Road 203, said she’s seen bears in the area eating fruit from trees. A lifelong local, she focuses on coexisting with the wildlife.

“We’re really careful. We don’t do a lot of things outside after dark because we know there’s a lot of wildlife, and we don’t want to spook them,” she said. “That’s not to say anything about the person who was walking her dog. It’s just the way we act. ... I think it’s just really a sad, unfortunate, tragic incident.”

For those who would like to learn more about wildlife awareness, CPW has a resource page on its website.

Grief and counseling services are available through community resources such as the Grief Center of Southwest Colorado, Axis Health System and Colorado Crisis Services at (844) 493-8255.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family suggested contributing to the Sexual Assault Services Organization, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains or Annie’s Orphans.


Bear encounter tips

Incidents in which bears kill humans are rare. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported three fatalities caused by bears between 1960 and 2020. Laney Malavolta’s death is the fourth fatality.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers tips should someone encounter a bear.

If you surprise a bear on a trail, you should:

Stand still, stay calm and let the bear identify you and leave. Talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route.

Never run or climb a tree.

If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately.

If the bear doesn’t leave:

A bear standing up is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell.

Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops it jaws or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space.

Step off the trail to the downhill side, keep looking at the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.

If the bear approaches:

A bear knowingly approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear. Stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear.

Get out your bear spray and use it if/when the bear is about 40 feet away.

If you’re attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available. People have successfully defended them­selves with pen knives, trekking poles and even bare hands, according to CPW.

Herald Staff

May 3, 2021
Wildlife officials find human remains in bears’ stomachs
May 1, 2021
Durango woman found dead after apparent bear attack

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