DA to review recent court documents regarding zoo tragedy

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PITTSBURGH - Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said Friday that he’s looking into reports that the Pittsburgh Zoo knew about safety concerns at its African painted dogs exhibit years before a 2-year-old boy was mauled to death.

Documents filed in court this week by the attorneys for the family of Maddox Derkosh, who was killed Nov. 4 as a result of falling into the exhibit's enclosure, appear to contradict zoo CEO Barbara Baker's assertion shortly after the tragedy that she wasn't aware of any concerns about the exhibit's safety.

The documents say the zoo's safety committee warned top officials at least four times that children could tumble into the exhibit, which has since been removed.

“We’re going to ask inspectors whether or not they were aware of this and if they were aware, did it make a difference,” Zappala said.

Tracy Gray, the public and media relations manager for the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, released the following statement Friday:

"The Pittsburgh Zoo has a very active safety committee. The committee is state certified and reviews all areas of the park. After careful inspection, it was determined that the exhibit continuously exceeded the safety requirements mandated by the USDA and AZA. Due to the continuing litigation process, we are not able to provide further comment."

Zappala said he will review the new information, but it likely won’t impact his decision not to file criminal charges against zoo employees.

“In a criminal case, it’s pretty hard to overcome national experts who come in and say they looked at it and it’s OK. There has to be gross criminal negligence, even more than gross deviation,” Zappala said.

However, Zappala said this information could help the Derkosh family’s civil suit against the zoo.

“That deals with ordinary negligence. That case should get to a jury based on evidence like that,” Zappala said.