A prosecutor declined to bring criminal charges against the mother of a 2-year-old boy who was killed after falling into a pit of wild dogs and mauled at the Pittsburgh Zoo, but he said on Wednesday he was still determining whether the zoo was at fault.
"I haven't found anything to indicate any crime was committed by the mother," Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala told a news conference. He called the death a "tragic accident."
Maddox Derkosh was killed almost immediately after he fell over the railing of an exhibit of African painted dogs and was attacked by 11 of the animals.
His mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, 34, had lifted him on top of the railing to give the boy with poor eyesight a better view. Holding him by the waist, she lost control, Zappala said. The child may have believed there was a Plexiglas barrier as he appeared to lunge forward, the prosecutor said.
Zookeepers rushed to the exhibit area housing the animals, firing darts to frighten them away, but it was too late. One dog that was particularly aggressive was killed.
Zappala said he was still investigating whether the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium might be culpable of negligence, manslaughter or endangering welfare of children because of the design of the exhibit.
"I have reached one conclusion and that is we are going to work together, with the zoo and with these administrative and regulatory agencies, and we're going to do as best we can to prevent this type of tragedy from ever happening again," Zappala said.
African painted dogs are endangered and native to sub-Saharan Africa, according to the National Geographic website. They are also known as Cape hunting dogs because of their mottled coats with patches of red, black, brown, white and yellow fur.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)