The Pittsburgh Zoo where a two-year-old toddler was torn apart last Nov. 4 when his mother accidentally dropped him into a pit of wild dogs is saying the boy’s death was the mother’s fault and that the zoo did nothing wrong.
Maddox Derkosh was killed when his mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, lifted him up over a railing designed to keep zoo patrons from stumbling into an exhibit of Lycaon pictus (the so-called “Painted Dogs”).
Because the boy had poor vision, she raised him over the four-foot high railing where he could see the dogs better. But she lost her grip on the child. Maddox slipped out her hands and over the rail, fell 14 feet, bounced off the protective netting over the African dog exhibit and into the pit.
Eleven of the dogs descended on the toddler, mauling him to death.
“The mom picks up the child, has the child by the waist," explained Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala last year, when he announced that no criminal charges would be filed against Elizabeth Derkosh. "In almost one motion as the child is elevated the child moves forward with both hands and his face. Mom loses control of him.”
One of the animals was shot during the attack as workers tried to save Maddox. The remainder of the dogs have since been shipped to other zoos and the exhibit at Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium is closed.
The boy's parents sued the zoo, claiming wrongful death. They allege that the plexiglass around the exhibit was dirty, making it difficult to see the animals, that the viewing area was not properly protected and that the zoo’s employees did not have the correct tranquilizer darts that might have stopped the attack, though the boy is reported to have died within seconds.
But the zoo not only denied all of the Derkosh’s allegations, its lawyers fired back at the grieving mother, saying she “blatantly ignored” a posted warning not to lift children above the railing. She “knew or should have known he could fall into the exhibit,” but lifted him up anyway while “failing to maintain a proper grasp” on her son, the zoo's attorney charges.
The lawyer, Dennis St. J. Mulvihill, also wrote that the railing met all legal safety codes. It was constructed at a 45 degree angle, so children -- or adults -- could not stand on it.
The family’s lawyer expressed outrage at the zoo’s allegations, which legal experts say are a routine part of any such lawsuit.
"I think their attack on the Derkosh family is awful,” said Derkosh lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi.
SOURCES: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, WPXI TV, KDKA CBS 2