Observation platform at Pittsburgh Zoo's African painted dogs exhibit to be removed
After the Allegheny County district attorney toured the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium exhibit where a 2-year-old boy was killed by African painted dogs, his office announced Thursday that the observation platform from which the child fell will be removed.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. met for two hours with zoo chief executive officer Barbara Baker, lawyer Charles Porter, who is the zoo's outside counsel, Pittsburgh public safety director Mike Huss and Pittsburgh police officers who responded Nov. 4 when Maddox Derkosh of Whitehall fell into the yard.
They walked through the vacant exhibit and discussed ways to avoid future problems.
"To that end, Dr. Baker advised the District Attorney that out of respect for the community and for the Derkosh family, the observation platform of the exhibit at issue would be removed," the district attorney's office said in a statement.
The zoo also sent out a statement saying it "is cooperating fully with the investigation."
Zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray said the zoo would not answer any questions and referred all inquiries to the district attorney's office.
But Mike Manko, Mr. Zappala's spokesman, similarly refused to answer questions, including the timetable for removing the platform.
"He doesn't have anything to add to what he said last week," Mr. Manko said, referring to Mr. Zappala's comments at a news conference. "We are in the middle of an active review. When it is appropriate to discuss the results of that review, the district attorney will do so."
Maddox died when his mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, hoisted him atop the railing on a platform overlooking the African painted dogs. Authorities said she placed him in a standing position atop the railing -- which is inclined inward at a 45-degree angle toward the deck -- and the boy lunged forward unexpectedly.
He fell onto a mesh shelf below the railing and bounced off it into the exhibit, where he was fatally mauled by the dogs.
The exhibit was built in 1992 for cheetahs when the City of Pittsburgh ran the zoo. The sides were enclosed but the middle portion was left open.
"The exhibit deck is actually located on a hillside with a pretty steep drop in grade," Ms. Baker said in an interview earlier this week. "At the top of the deck as you first enter the deck, the dogs or the cheetah, either one, are on the same grade as you when they're standing on the yard. Then the grade drops and heads down to where there's a large tree at the bottom of a valley, and the grade drops off at that point.
"Originally and now, there was Plexiglas on the sides because it was eye to eye, nose to nose, for lack of a better term, with the animals in the exhibit."
Ms. Baker said she was unaware since the exhibit opened of any adults lifting children up to stand atop the guardrail or any concerns from zoo staff about such behavior.
There is no sign in the pavilion warning against putting children on the railing. But the slant of the guardrail away from the exhibit was seen as a deterrent to perching atop the rail, Ms. Baker said. "... It's at a 45-degree angle, angled towards the visitors. So if a child is sat on that railing they automatically lean backwards if they were to fall, towards the parent. That's basic zoo design," Ms. Baker said.
"It's not a flat railing that would entice you to think, 'OK, I'm gonna sit on this,' " she said. "There's very little edge for anybody to stand on the railing."
Ms. Gray said zoo board members were notified "immediately" of the situation.
First Published December 6, 2012 12:05 am