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Transcripts show chaos after San Francisco Zoo attack

By JORDAN ROBERTSON, Associated Press Writer

Police radio transcripts from the night of a deadly tiger attack revealed a chaotic scene at the San Francisco Zoo as zookeepers struggled to sedate the animal and medics refused to enter until they knew they would be safe.

Zoo employees also initially questioned whether early reports of the Dec. 25 attack were coming from a mentally unstable person, according to an 18-page log of communications from police dispatchers to officers and emergency responders at the scene.

Police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens declined to comment beyond the transcript released late Friday. The police chief has praised officers for their quick action and collaborative work with the zoo staff.

Zoo officials on Saturday did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The tiger that escaped from its enclosure killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr., whose throat was slashed while he tried to scare away the animal. Two of Sousa’s friends suffered bite and claw injuries. They were released from the hospital Saturday.

The first report of an attack — a male bleeding from the head — came in at 5:08 p.m.

According to the logs, zoo personnel initially told police that two men reporting the escaped tiger might be mentally disturbed and “making something up,” though one was bleeding from the back of the head.

But by 5:10 p.m., zoo employees reported that a tiger was loose. By 5:13 p.m., the zoo was being evacuated.

For several minutes, medics refused to enter the zoo until it had been secured. Meanwhile, zoo keepers were trying to round up what they initially believed to be multiple tigers on the loose and hit them with tranquilizers.

“Zoo personnel have the tiger in sight and are dealing with it,” reads a 5:17 p.m. note on the transcript.

The transcript does not indicate when police or emergency responders entered, but by 5:20 p.m. medics had located one victim with a large puncture hole to his neck. The tiger was still loose.

As medics attended to the victim, an officer spotted the tiger sitting down before it fled and began attacking another victim, according to the logs.

At 5:27 p.m., less than 20 minutes after the initial reports were made, the officers began firing, killing the 350-pound Siberian tiger.

It was unclear whether letting police and medics into the zoo sooner would have helped the victims or subjected emergency responders to greater danger with a tiger on the loose.

Late Saturday, about 50 people gathered outside the San Jose home of Souza’s grandmother to attend a candlelight vigil. Mourners watched silently as Souza’s father stood in front of two enlarged photos of he and his son together.

“My son Carlos was a very good boy” the elder Souza said, choking back tears. “I can see that he had a lot of friends here. I want you all to remember the good things that he did and carry this with you in your hearts for as long as you can.”

Police said Friday that they had completed their investigation on zoo grounds and that investigators “found absolutely no evidence of an intentional release.”

It has become increasingly clear that the tiger climbed over the wall of its enclosure, which at just under 12 1/2 high was about 4 feet below the recommended minimum for U.S. zoos.

Zoo officials said the zoo, which has been closed since the attack, would reopen Jan. 3. It could face heavy fines from regulators and lose its license. It also could be hit with a huge lawsuit by the victims or their families.

Meanwhile, at the Oakland Zoo, officials have said they plan to raise the height of the walls surrounding their tiger enclosure to avoid any escapes like the one in San Francisco. The current walls range from 13 1/2 to 16 feet.

Associated Press writers Ron Harris in San Jose and Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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December 29, 2007 - Posted by | Animals, Current Events, News

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