Sunday, December 30, 2007

Teen Killed by Tiger Was Helping Friend

The last minutes of a 17-year-old boy's life were spent trying to save his friend from being mauled by an escaped tiger at the San Francisco Zoo, police and family members said.

Carlos Sousa Jr. and his friend's brother desperately tried to distract the 350-pound (160-kilogram) Siberian tiger, but the big cat instead came after Sousa.

"He didn't run. He tried to help his friend, and it was him who ended up getting it the worst," the teen's father, Carlos Sousa Sr., said Thursday after meeting with police.

The heroic portrait of Sousa and a timeline of the dramatic Christmas Day attack emerged as officials revealed that the tiger's escape from its enclosure may have been aided by walls that were well below the height recommended by the accrediting agency for the nation's zoos.

The Wall

San Francisco Zoo Director Manuel A. Mollinedo acknowledged that the wall around the animal's pen was just 12.5 feet (4 meters) high, after previously saying it was 18 feet (5.5 meters). According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the walls around a tiger exhibit should be at least 16.4 feet (5 meters) high.

Mollinedo said it was becoming increasingly clear the tiger leaped or climbed out, perhaps by grabbing onto a ledge.

Investigators have ruled out the theory the tiger escaped through a door behind the exhibit at the zoo, which remained closed Friday.

"She had to have jumped," he said. "How she was able to jump that high is amazing to me."

Mollinedo said safety inspectors had examined the wall, built in 1940, and never raised any red flags about its size.

"When the AZA came out and inspected our zoo three years ago, they never noted that as a deficiency," he said. "Obviously now that something's happened, we're going to be revisiting the actual height."

The four-year-old tiger, a female named Tatiana, went on a rampage near closing time Tuesday, killing Sousa and severely injuring the two others before police shot it to death.

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