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Bear spray – not leak – sent two residents to hospital Thursday night

By News staff

Friday, March 1 (1:00 p.m.): Two Rossmoor residents were treated at a local hospital Thursday night after being exposed to bear spray in an incident that was originally believed to be a gas or coolant leak.

ConFire Capt. Chris Toler said Friday that the 78-year-old resident of a manor off Running Springs Road had fallen and couldn’t get up. She used an 8.3-ounce can of bear spray, thinking pushing the nozzle would make a horn-type noise that would alert neighbors of her plight.

Instead, her manor filled with bear spray. A Running Springs Road neighbor, who didn’t want to be identified, said Friday she and neighbors from four other nearby manors heard the woman’s screams and rushed to help. They encountered a dangerous situation.

“We couldn’t breathe – I could feel my face burning,” the neighbor said, adding that putting on an N95 face mask, like those recommended during the COVID pandemic, considerably helped her to breathe. “We thought this felt like a toxic gas, because we didn’t know” it was bear spray, she said.

Said Toler, “There was a lot of bear spray (dispensed) in a small area.”

The woman who fell and one of the neighbors who came to help were taken to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Walnut Creek for treatment, said Rossmoor Public Safety Manager Tom Cashion. Both were home by Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Toler said, the 25 to 27 firefighters and other first responders called to the scene at 9:39 p.m. Thursday didn’t know about the bear spray right away. ConFire personnel turned off the gas in and around the affected manors as they searched for the source of what initially presented as a possible leak. Residents of the eight units adjacent to where the bear spray was used were evacuated by ConFire as a precaution, Toler said. Firefighters also broke into an adjacent unit that was unoccupied at the time.

“We were looking at anything and everything, from a freon leak to some other coolant leak,” as the source of the problem, Toler said. The air conditioning system in that unit had recently been repaired, he added, and the early focus was on that. But a technician from a heating and air conditioning firm confirmed there was no leak, and the empty bear spray can was later found; the resident confirmed she had sprayed it.

Cashion said Tice Creek Drive was blocked off near the Running Springs intersection for a time Thursday night before bear spray was identified as the irritant. Also, residents of many other manors in the area got a knock on the door, from Walnut Creek police or from fellow neighbors, about a potential chemical leak. Though there was no formal evacuation ordered, Securitas opened up the Redwood Room at Gateway for residents who chose to leave their homes while the cause was being investigated, Cashion said.

Two of them were Marc and Leanne Hamaji, who live a ways from the affected building. They got a knock on their door by police officers about 10 p.m. Thursday.

“We didn’t know what the situation was,” Leanne Hamaji said Friday. She and Marc went to Gateway, where they stayed until about 11:15 p.m., after the all-clear had been given.

Cashion and Toler said Friday that no further investigation seems to be needed. Both Cashion and Leanne Hamaji, the vice president of the GRF Board, praised Securitas’s response to Thursday’s situation. “I think the system worked very well with this,” Hamaji said.