A Fort Mill man was attacked by a coyote, twice, in what he calls a life-and-death struggle.
“It was something that I didn’t expect at all,” said John Somjak. “I’m almost 60. I’ve been in the woods all my life, at least 50 years. I’ve seen all sorts of animals. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Somjak went into woods behind a friend’s house on Altura Road at about 4:30 p.m. Dec. 26 to change a memory chip in a camera set up to capture wildlife.
“I had some cob corn in one of those fishnet bags,” Somjak said. “A 50-pounder. I was just shaking it a little bit to loosen up the kernels.”
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Somjak saw something running toward him. He dropped the bag and before he could move, what Somjak estimates was a 45-pound coyote had its nose in the bag. Somjak let the coyote have it. Then, Somjak said, it became clear the coyote wasn’t interested in the corn.
“He wasn’t going for the corn,” Somjak said. “He wasn’t foaming at the mouth and it looked really healthy, but he was coming toward me.
“I kicked him under the chin as hard as I could,” Somjak said. “It knocked him out.”
Somjak stomped the animal a couple of times thinking he’d killed it, before heading to the car to get a camera and knife. When Somjak returned, the coyote wasn’t down.
“That coyote came back again,” Somjak said. “He came right up to me.”
Somjak kicked and stomped the animal again. With his knife this time, Somjak made sure the animal was dead. He hung it in a tree so other animals wouldn’t eat it in case the coyote was rabid, or in case wildlife or health department officials wanted to test it for rabies.
“The only thing I thought, why would a coyote attack me?” he said.
At an urgent care the next day, an X-ray of Somjak’s knee showed a hairline fracture. He apparently stomped too hard, he said.
“That’s what adrenaline will do, I guess,” he said.
According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, coyotes arrived in South Carolina three decades ago and are a major threat to deer populations. Adult coyotes average 35 pounds, but can exceed 50 pounds. There are few restrictions on killing the animals, particularly on private land.
Somjak was on less than 2 acres that back up to almost 100 acres owned by a timber company, another 80 largely undeveloped acres along Altura, and there are more woods across the state line in Mecklenburg County.
Somjak said the coyote attacked him about a half mile from residential developments, near an elementary school.
“Everything is being eaten up over there,” he said.
Across from Altura sit hundreds of homes in the Quail Ridge, Laurel Meadow and Fair Oaks subdivisions. Catawba Village townhomes sit east. Areas from Beacon Knoll to Carowinds are near the property.
Two years ago, Tega Cay went through a series of public meetings with wildlife experts amid resident complaints of a growing coyote population and danger to pets and passersby. The city began coyote trapping.
At the time, wildlife experts covering York, Lancaster and Chester counties estimated receiving 30 calls a year about coyotes.
In July, a man on Hensley Road West fired three shots at a coyote he told Fort Mill police was foaming at the mouth. The same month, Tega Cay set out five traps after a man and his dogs — one was bitten — encountered a coyote. The city caught at least three coyotes. A 2016 coyote attack in Tega Cay left a greyhound in rabies quarantine.
Earlier this month, the Charlotte Observer reported a pack of coyotes prowling near at a neighborhood near Uptown.
Tega Cay City Manager Charlie Funderburk said not much has changed in recent months.
“We still get reports of sightings, but the reports aren’t any more frequent than usual,” he said. “We haven’t had any reports of coyote encounters, just sightings.”
Somjak said he has seen hundreds of coyotes, bobcats, bears and deer in woods the past few decades. But it was the coyote’s aggression Wednesday that caught him off guard.
“In the heat of it, everything was happening,” he said. “I knew if I turned my back on him, I knew he was going to bite me.”
Somjak said he has dreams about the attack but is thankful he wasn’t bitten.
“I didn’t feel like going through rabies shots,” he said. “And the only way to avoid that was to win. I didn’t hold back. With every ounce of energy in me, I went to kill it.”
Somjak called the humane society, county animal control office and natural resources department and health department. By mid-morning Thursday, the health department said someone would pick up the animal to test it for rabies.
York County Manager Bill Shanahan recommends calling 911 and letting dispatch determine which agencies need to respond. His animal control staff would refer potential rabies incidents directly to the state.
The Rock Hill office of the health department can advise on transporting a dead animal, should it need testing.
“Typically, a veterinarian, or other designated official will prepare the body, then (Department of Health and Environmental Control) personnel will retrieve the sample and take it to the lab for testing,” said health department spokesperson Chris Delcamp. “DHEC’s role in investigations involving people and animals is to determine if rabies was a factor in the incident.”
As Somjak recovers from his injuries, he is hopeful this coyote encounter will be his last.
“I’m not an exciting guy,” Somjak said. “This was a wild ride, man.”
What you should do
Anyone in the York County area exposed to animal suspected of having rabies, should call the health department Rock Hill office at 803-909-7096. Then contact his or her healthcare provider.