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Pet Chimp Is Shot to Death After Mauling Woman |
By ANDY NEWMAN
Published: February 16, 2009
A 200-pound pet chimpanzee in Stamford, Conn., Monday viciously mauled a woman he had known for years, leaving her critically injured with much of her face torn away, the authorities said. The animal was shot dead by the police after he assaulted an officer in his car.
The woman, Charla Nash, 55, a friend of the chimpanzee’s owner, was being treated at Stamford Hospital and might not survive, the authorities said.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and have never seen anything this dramatic on a living patient,” said the head of the paramedic crew that treated her, Capt. Bill Ackley of Stamford Emergency Medical Service.
The attack, in the driveway of a sprawling home in a densely wooded neighborhood on the north side of Stamford, also brought a brutal end to the life of the chimpanzee, Travis, 14, a popular figure in town who had appeared in television commercials and often posed for photographs at the towing shop operated by his owners. He had escaped before, and in 2003 playfully held up traffic at a busy intersection for several hours, but had no history of violence, the authorities said. Travis’s social skills included drinking wine from a stemmed glass, dressing and bathing himself and using a computer.
Travis’s owner, Sandra Herold, 70, had raised him almost as one of her own children, but found herself lunging at him with a butcher knife on Monday to protect Ms. Nash, said Capt. Richard Conklin of the Stamford Police, who gave the following account.
Ms. Herold told detectives that Travis was in a rambunctious mood Monday afternoon. He took her keys from the kitchen table, unlocked a door and let himself out into the yard at 241 Rock Rimmon Road.
“He’s going to different cars and tapping on them, trying the doors, a clear indication he wanted to go for a ride,” Captain Conklin said.
Travis would not be lured back into the house, even after Ms. Herold gave him tea laced with Xanax. Ms. Herold called Ms. Nash, who drove over, but when she stepped out of her car at around 3:40 p.m., Travis went at her full force. While it was not clear what prompted the assault, Ms. Nash had markedly changed her hairstyle since the last time Travis had seen her, possibly leading him to mistake her for an intruder.
Ms. Herold tried to pull Travis off her friend, but, Captain Conklin noted, “Sandra is 70 years old, and a 200-pound chimpanzee is much, much stronger than a 200-pound human being.”
Ms. Herold called 911, grabbed a knife and stabbed Travis several times, to little avail. When emergency service vehicles pulled up, Travis fled, leaving Ms. Nash face down in the driveway.
One team of officers combed the woods for Travis, while another formed a protective cordon around the paramedics ministering to Ms. Nash, who Captain Ackley said also suffered multiple broken bones.
After a while, Captain Conklin said, Travis returned and “went after the officers.” He knocked a mirror off the passenger’s side of a police cruiser with one swing of his arm, then ran around to the driver’s side, opened the door and attacked the officer in the driver’s seat.
“He’s trapped in his car,” Captain Conklin said. “He has nowhere to go. So he pulls his sidearm and shoots the chimp several times in close proximity.”
The officer, whose name was not released, was treated for trauma. Ms. Herold was not seriously injured, but was hospitalized.
Travis disappeared into the woods. Eventually officers picked up a blood trail, which they followed back to the house. There they found Travis in his living quarters, a caged-in area with a bed and other furnishings of comfortable captivity. He was dead.
Captain Conklin said that charges against Ms. Herold were unlikely.
“We’ll certainly speak to the experts and the prosecutors,” he said, “but we truly hope that there are no charges. It’s a modern-day tragedy.”