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Deputy: Primate sanctuary was uncooperative, deceptive after chimp attack

PALM HARBOR — A deputy called to a primate sanctuary in response to a chimp attack on Friday said workers were "uncooperative," "evasive" and "deceptive" about the incident that landed a volunteer in the hospital.

"That's not true," said the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary's outreach coordinator, Debbie Cobb.

But according to Pinellas sheriff's Deputy Gregory Mason's report, he spent more than hour trying to track down the volunteer, Andrea Maturen, while workers denied him entry to the sanctuary. He wrote that workers repeatedly told him that the incident was less severe than it was and gave him conflicting accounts about Maturen's whereabouts.

"Looking at the time line, it appears that Andrea (Maturen) was at the sanctuary with severe and potentially life-threatening injuries, while I was outside trying to find out what happened and check on her," the deputy wrote. "She went over an hour before receiving medical treatment at (the doctor's) office. I believe I was intentionally misled about her condition, about what happened and her location."

Cobb said workers freely provided information and were not deliberately misleading.

"We didn't know where she was at," she said Monday.

An 11-year-old chimpanzee named Shawn chased, attacked and struggled with Maturen after the 22-year-old volunteer entered a cage on Friday, according to authorities.

The deputy arrived at 11:37 a.m., shortly after authorities received a call from a patron who had been ushered out of the sanctuary after hearing someone screaming.

Here is what happened, according to the deputy's report:

More than once, the deputy found himself ringing a bell by the gate trying to get inside to see Maturen. One worker said the sanctuary was closed and no one was allowed in because of an incident, but she added that no one was hurt. The deputy asked to speak to Maturen. The worker supposedly went to get her.

Then, several minutes later, another worker greeted the deputy at the gate. She told him that Maturen was merely grabbed by a chimp while cleaning a cage. The deputy again demanded to speak with Maturen. Once again, a worker said she was going to get Maturen.

After the deputy rang the bell several times, Cobb showed up at the entrance. She told him she would check to see if Maturen was there. She returned to say that Maturen had left.

About 1 p.m., Cobb reportedly told the deputy that her husband had found Maturen at a nearby medical clinic. The deputy was later told that Cobb's husband accompanied Maturen there about 12:30.

Maturen was transported to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, where she was interviewed by the deputy.

Maturen said she was charged by two chimps, Shawn and her sister Lucy, but Lucy apparently backed off. Shawn attacked, and Maturen thought her right elbow was fractured because she heard it break.

She also had a deep laceration on the back of her head and bites on her thigh, back and abdomen, the report said.

Maturen was released from the hospital Monday afternoon, spokesman Jerry Touchton said.

The Sheriff's Office closed its case, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is conducting an investigation.

Maturen could not be reached. Cobb said Maturen is doing well, but is worried about Shawn's welfare. "She said to my husband, 'Don't let them do anything to Shawn,' " said Cobb, whose grandparents founded the sanctuary.

Shawn is doing fine and is back to playing with her caregivers, sanctuary officials said.

"She is a very sweet chimp and was apparently very frightened when Andrea reacted in a loud way," an e-mail from the sanctuary said. "We do not speak or shout around the chimpanzees or other animals."

Deputy: Primate sanctuary was uncooperative, deceptive after chimp attack 02/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 12:13am]
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