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Archive for Sunday, December 30, 2007

Transcripts reveal chaos of tiger attack

December 30, 2007

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— 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. Authorities have never indicated their response was hindered by any delays, and 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 attacks killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr., whose throat was slashed while he tried to scare away the tiger. Two of Sousa's friends suffered bite and claw injuries. Paul Dhaliwal, 19, and Kulbir Dhaliwal, 23, 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 and locked down as fire department responders arrived at a zoo entrance. No one was allowed to go inside the zoo.

For several minutes, the 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.

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