Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009

Chimp Mauls Woman

Sandra Herold, 70, was frantic when she called 911 in February. "Send the police up! With a gun ... He's killing my friend," she said.

"Who is killing your friend?" the 911 operator responded.

Herold: "My chimpanzee!"

911 operator, with an unmistakable note of sarcasm: "Oh, your chimpanzee is killing your friend."

Herold, now shouting: "Yes! He ripped her apart ... He ripped her face off!"

It was true: Herold's 14-year-old chimp, Travis, who had lived with her since the mid-'90s and become a kind of surrogate son to her — she fed him filet mignon and lobster tail and often cuddled with him in bed — had attacked Herold's friend Charla Nash. Travis tore out Nash's eyes and devoured her nose, lips, many of her teeth and nine of her fingers. Herold tried to stop the 200-lb. chimp by stabbing him with a butcher knife, but his attack would not end until police arrived at Herold's home in Stamford, Conn., and shot and killed the chimp.

Nash survived, barely, and underwent surgeries at the Cleveland Clinic. By November, she had recovered enough to do interviews with the media. Although she was still living in the Cleveland Clinic under round-the-clock care, Nash, 56, seemed remarkably resilient. She said her brothers and 17-year-old daughter were helping with her long recovery. Meanwhile, the Nashes are suing Herold and are seeking to sue the state of Connecticut for a combined $200 million. They allege that Herold and state officials had long known that Travis, despite having been tame enough to star in an Old Navy commercial, could occasionally act like the wild animal that he was. In 2003, for instance, he got out of Herold's car and led police on a chase around Stamford for hours. It is now illegal to keep chimps as pets in Connecticut.