The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium should have launched a better immediate response to the early November incident in which a South Hills toddler was mauled to death by a pack of African painted dogs after falling into the zoo exhibit, according to District Attorney Stephen Zappala.
As he announced some preliminary results of his investigation into the incident, the DA did not say whether he would seek criminal charges against the zoo, but Zappala said he will not charge any family members. Zappala did mention some potential charges he would review in similar situations.
"If you're talking crimes that would be reviewed: criminal negligence, manslaughter, endangering the welfare of children," said Zappala. "I'm not saying that ultimately that's where we're going. Those are the areas that you typically would review or investigate in this type of circumstance."
However, Zappala said he has found no evidence indicating he should pursue charges against Elizabeth Derkosh, the mother of the late two-year-old Maddox Derkosh.
Zappala said evidence indicates that the young boy might have thought there was Plexiglas between himself and the exhibit when his mother hoisted him by the waist for a better view of the dogs.
"When the mother lifted the child, the child immediately moved forward as if there was Plexiglas or something there," said Zappala. "The child has problems with his vision. The mother lost control of the child and the child went in."
Zappala said the boy bounced twice off the netting below, which is meant to catch litter rather than people, before falling into the pack's feeding area and immediately being attacked by the dogs below.
The DA said the zoo could have done better in several areas. Zappala noted that there were no security guards on duty at the time, leaving the zoo's response to a veterinarian with a tranquilizer gun.
"If the response was intended to save the child, it wouldn't have saved the child, even if there was narcotics in ... the dart gun," said Zappala. "From an overall perspective and as we move forward, we gotta do better than that."
The District Attorney also noted that zoo employees took too much time to allow Pittsburgh Police access to the facility. In addition, Zappala said it would have been helpful for first responders to have seen the inside of the exhibit through security cameras before entering.