ABC7 gets Geragos' take on zoo attack

January 9, 2008 6:59:39 PM PST
Did the San Francisco Zoo know the walls of its big cat grotto were too short but refused to make changes because of a lack of money? That's the charge being made by the attorney for the survivors of the Christmas day tiger attack.

The attorney for the survivors of the tiger attack charges the zoo knew about the walls of the big cat grotto were too short, but refused to act because of a lack of money. ABC7's Vic Lee talked with attorney Mark Geragos today.

Geragos says that he has been "inundated with calls from people who've offered information." and has been a bit of information he says is important. Incidentally, his information is similar to what a former zoo employee told us through his lawyer Monday -- that he had warned the zoo about the big cat exhibit walls way before the attack.

As a zoo maintenance supervisor, Lloyd Kraal says he was responsible for correcting safety violations at both the big cat and bear grottos.

However, his lawyer Dan Bacon told ABC7 news that his client warned zoo officials a year ago that the walls seemed too short. He said the zoo rebuffed Kraal when he asked to bring in inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces regulations on animal enclosures.

"When he mentioned that to management at the zoo, he was met with angry denials, that it was not dangerous, that there was no need for concern," says Bacon.

Mark Geragos is the attorney for Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal, the brothers who survived the Christmas day tiger attack. He told ABC7 news by phone that Kraal's allegation fits what he's heard.

"It was measured. The problems were brought to the zoo's attention and nothing was done and lack of money was the excuse that was used," says Geragos.

Kraal's lawyer also believes money was the issue.

"My client is well aware of several enclosures that the zoo purposely ignored because they were spending money on other things."

Richard Schulke is a former chair of the City Commission of Animal Control and Welfare. Schulke says he and other commissioners often wondered if the zoo was spending its money wisely.

"Where did all that money go? They certainly didn't improve all of the enclosures. I think the first thing they did was increase their parking lot and concession stands."

A spokesperson for City Parks and Recreation declined to comment on the charges, saying they would be addressed in the investigations being held by supervisors and the mayor.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier called for the board inquiry.

"I think we're in a position where we should probably go back and double check a lot of that stuff."

The zoo's newly hired spokesman, Sam Singer, has told us that zoo officials are not aware of any of the safety issues Lloyd Kraal, the former worker, raised. Singer has said the zoo is not aware of any of Geragos' accusations.

Currently there are half a dozen investigations into the tiger attack in one form or another. The first one -- the mayor's probe -- starts Friday.