DA: Pittsburgh zoo dog-mauling probe all but over

4/10/2013 3:15 PM
By Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh zoo plans to close the African painted dog exhibit where a boy was mauled to death last fall and move the 10 wild canines once kept there to other zoos, the zoo's president announced Wednesday, and a prosecutor suggested the investigation into the death was all but over.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium President Dr. Barbara Baker said the zoo staff and surrounding community still "need time to heal" from the death of 2-year-old Maddox Derkosh, who was killed Nov. 4 when he fell from the railing of an observation platform overlooking the exhibit and attacked by several dogs.

The boy's mother had placed him on the rail to give him a better look, when he unexpectedly lunged forward and fell. He is the only visitor to die at the 115-year-old zoo.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. expects to close his investigation into the boy's death, he also announced Wednesday, barring unforeseen findings in a separate U.S. Department of Agriculture probe.

The boy bled to death and Zappala determined relatively quickly that his mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, 34, shouldn't be prosecuted for his death, which Zappala called a "tragic accident."

During a tour of the zoo in December, Zappala praised the decision to close the observation deck from which the boy fell, should the exhibit ever reopen.

Zappala said at the time that his office was still investigating whether anyone at the zoo might face criminal charges in the boy's death, but in a brief statement on Wednesday, that appeared to no longer be the case.

"Our investigation into last year's death of Maddox Derkosh revealed no criminal conduct on behalf of anyone associated with the Pittsburgh zoo," Zappala said.

USDA officials have refused to comment on their investigation, which has no deadline, except to say that it is continuing and that any violations will be made public. A USDA spokesperson has previously said that probe will center on the Animal Welfare Act, which deals with how animals are treated in public exhibits.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an accrediting organization that enforces safety and other operating standards, was also reviewing the boy's death. Spokesman Steve Feldman wrote in an email that there's no estimate on when their report will be finished, since the group waits until all law enforcement and other reviews are complete. Feldman said the Pittsburgh zoo is accredited and in good standing.

Baker said four of the wild dogs have already been farmed out to other zoos, two others will be leaving soon and four others will be shipped out this fall. Baker wouldn't say where those animals were being sent, but said all of the zoos receiving them already have painted dog exhibits.

The wild dog exhibit might once again be used to house cheetahs, which it did until the early 1990s.


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