No Charges in Chimp Attack, Civil Suit Pending

Owner of chimp that ripped off friend's face "welcomes" state's decision.

ByRussell Goldman via via logo
December 07, 2009, 3:18 PM

Dec. 8, 2009— -- Sandy Herold, the owner of a 200-pound chimpanzee that viciously mauled her friend Charla Nash "welcomed" the state's decision not to criminally charge her in relation to the attack, her lawyer told ABC News.

"The State did not perceive Travis [the chimpanzee] to be a public health risk prior to this incident occurring," Herold's attorney Robert Golger said in a statement. "His attack on Charla Nash was not foreseeable to Sandy."

Though an attorney for the Nash family said the family "understands" the state's decision, they have filed a $50 million civil lawsuit against Herold and want to sue the state for $150 million.

Connecticut State attorney David Cohen called the attack that left Nash blind and grotesquely disfigured a "horror" and said the facts were "uncontroverted."

But he declined to press charges against Herold, saying Herold had not acted recklessly when she asked Nash to help cage Travis because the animal had never previously attacked anyone.

"The investigation has not discovered any evidence that Mrs. Herold was aware of the risk that the chimpanzee posed and disregarded it. The animal had not previously exhibited violent behavior, especially toward the victim, Ms. Nash, with whom he interacted regularly, and who was present that day specifically because it was thought that she could help in controlling the chimpanzee," Cohen said in a statement.

Click here to see Charla Nash's uncovered face.

"Additionally, there is no record of the State Department of Environmental Protection warning Mrs. Herold in any way that the animal could be dangerous and pose a threat to people," he said.

Cohen said investigators who conducted a necropsy found no signs of illness, but did find trace elements of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. At the time of the attack Herold said she gave the ape some of the pills in a teacup, but later withdrew that comment.

The chimpanzee attacked Nash in February when Herold asked her friend and an employee in her home-based towing company to help lure the animal back into its room-sized cage.

Herold kept the ape in her home and regularly ate meals with the animal seated at her dining table.

'He Ripped Her Apart!'

Chuck Willinger, Nash's attorney said the state's decision not to press charges will not affect the civil suit.

"The Nash family appreciates the time and effort by the Conncticut State Attorney in investigating. Though we have some difference of opinion on the facts of the matter, we reconcile to that decision. Frankly, a criminal prosecution is not going to undo what happened to Charla," Willinger told Monday.

"The family remains focused on Charla's care and rehabilitation," he added. "The state attorney's decision will have no impact on the civil litigation."

In response to the civil suit, Herold's lawyers have claimed that Nash was an employee and as such her injuries should be covered by workman's compensation and not through a civil suit.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, Nash publicly revealed for the first time the extent of injuries: missing fingers, lips, nose and eyes. Today Nash remains in the Cleveland Clinic in stable condition, but under the constant supervision of medical staff.

At the time of the attack, there was no law on the books banning Connecticut homeowners from keeping chimpanzees. In June the state legislature added gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans to the list of animals that cannot be privately owned in the state.

Nash, 56, must drink all of her meals with a straw though a small hole where her mouth used to be. She told Winfrey she longs for the day when she might be able to eat "a hot dog or piece of pizza."

Paramedics responding to a 911 call said they found pieces of Nash's fingers strewn on the floor and her hands looked as though they had been through a meat grinder.

"The monkey had ripped off her entire upper jaw, had ripped off her nose, which as hanging by a thread," said Dr. Kevin Miller, who treated Nash when she taken to the emergency room. "We found extensive dirt, chimp fur, and chimp teeth implanted in her bone."

Nash said she does not remember anything about the morning when Herold called her to help get Travis back in his cage.

"I don't remember anything and they told the doctor that I don't want to remember," she told Winfrey.

But the 911 calls Herold made describe a chilling scene. On the recordings, Herold can be heard screaming that the ape had killed her friend and was "eating her!"

"The chimp killed my friend!" says a sobbing Herold on the tapes. "Send the police with a gun. With a gun!"

The dispatcher later asks, "Who's killing your friend?"

"My chimpanzee!" she cries. "He ripped her apart! Shoot him, shoot him!"

Nash wears a veil whenever she leaves her hospital room to take daily walks around the clinic, she said, so she does not scare anyone.

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