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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chimp Killed After Mauling Woman in CT

Sometimes, searching the term "tow truck" brings up some bizarre news. Here's some from the Connecticut Post:

STAMFORD -- A 200-pound pet chimpanzee known for TV commercials and riding around Stamford in a tow truck mauled a 55-year-old city woman Monday in a Rock Rimmon Road driveway.

Injuries to the woman, Charla Nash, are "life-changing, if not life-threatening," Mayor Dannel Malloy said. The chimp brutally attacked her face and hands in particular, police said.

Sandra Herold, 70, owner of the chimpanzee, took a butcher knife from the house when she saw her pet attacking her friend, and stabbed the animal several times.

The 14-year-old chimp, Travis, backed off but returned when police arrived. Officers took cover in their cruiser but, when the chimp tried to open the door, an officer shot him. The chimp retreated to the house and died there.

The chimp attacked Nash near her car, though police said it's not known why. Nash went to Herold's home to help her coax the chimp back into the house, police said.

"It was a very serious attack. She suffered a tremendous loss of blood, terrible facial injuries, body injuries and hand injuries," Capt. Richard Conklin said.

Herold was treated for unknown injuries. A police officer was treated for "shock and trauma," Conklin said.

Travis was known in Stamford for years because he rode around in trucks belonging to Herold's towing company, Desire Me Motors in Stamford.

"This animal was raised as a family member," Malloy said at a news conference Monday night at police headquarters, attended by dozens of reporters. "The owner, if she was here, would be speaking of the chimpanzee as her child."

The attack occurred in the driveway outside Herold's home on Rock Rimmon Road. Police said the chimp became agitated sometime before the attack and the owner gave him tea with Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat panic and anxiety disorders, to calm him.

Instead, Travis grabbed Herold's keys, let himself out of the house and began banging on cars in the driveway, police said.

Herold called Nash, who was attacked when she got out of her car.

"The chimpanzee exited the house and for some reason, we don't know what triggered it, and attacked the visitor," Conklin said. "It was a very extreme attack, a very brutal attack."

Herold saw what was happening, called 911 at 3:44 p.m., and grabbed a butcher knife. She stabbed the chimp a number of times, Conklin said.

After he was stabbed, Travis wandered around the yard, police said.

When police arrived to protect emergency medical workers, Travis reappeared and officers retreated to their vehicles, Conklin said.

Travis, known for liking police officers, tried to open the passenger door of a cruiser, smashing the side-view mirror. When he couldn't get it open, the chimp went around to the driver's-side door and opened it, Conklin said. The officer in the cruiser shot the animal.

"He had no choice but to pull his pistol and fire several rounds," Conklin said.

Conklin said the chimp was shot in the upper torso, then fled. Officers followed a trail of blood into the house to Travis' living quarters, a room filled with ropes and a "zoo-like cage," Conklin said. The chimp was dead there, he said.

Herold's friend, Don Mecca, of Port Chester, N.Y., said he was wary of the chimp.

"They're pretty calm ... but they will get you one way or the other" if they are angered, Mecca said.

Many Stamford residents know Travis for an incident in October 2003, when the chimp jumped out of an SUV in which he was riding with Herold and her late husband, Jerome.

The incident occurred after a young man threw something at the SUV that went through a half-open window and struck Travis while they were stopped at a traffic light. Startled, Travis unbuckled his seat belt, opened the SUV door and went after the man, but did not catch him.

Travis then played at the busy Tresser Boulevard intersection for about two hours. Each time they lured him into the SUV, he got back out by opening the door before they could lock it. The same thing happened when they tried to get Travis into the back of a police cruiser. At one point the chimp chased officers around a police car parked on Tresser Boulevard. Police finally forced him back into the SUV.

It is not illegal to own an exotic pet in Connecticut, but a law requires new owners to have permits. The law was not retroactive and so did not apply to the Herolds.

As The Advocate of Stamford has reported, the chimp was toilet trained, dressed himself, took his own bath, ate at the table and drank wine from a stemmed glass. He brushed his teeth using a Water Pik, logged onto a computer to look at pictures, and watched television using a remote control.

The Herolds got Travis when he was 3 days old.

When he was younger, Travis appeared on TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola, made an appearance on the "Maury Povich Show" and took part in a television pilot.

Through the Herolds' towing business, the chimp got to know several police officers. During the incident at the downtown intersection, Travis thought the officers who tried to contain him were playing, the owner said at the time.

The brutal mauling garnered national attention, drawing dozens of television crews to the Stamford Police Department for a press conference Monday evening. Conklin is slated to appear on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday morning.

Conklin said police will investigate the shooting and possible violation of animal laws.

"We truly hope there's is no violation of laws to compound this tragedy," Chief Brent Larabbee said.

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