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Sandra Herold, owner of chimp that severely injured Connecticut woman in 2009, dies

May 26, 2010 |  4:37 pm

HeroldSandra Herold, the Connecticut woman whose 200-pound pet chimpanzee, Travis, attacked and critically injured Herold's friend Charla Nash last February, died Monday.

Herold's attorney told the Associated Press that his client died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Herold, who adopted Travis with her late husband when the chimp was an infant, reportedly treated him as a family member rather than as the potentially dangerous animal he later proved to be. Reports surfaced that Travis had essentially lived as a human -- taking his own bath, dressing himself, brushing his own teeth and eating at the family's table, even drinking wine from a glass.

Kentucky-based primate rescuer April Truitt later told reporters that she had warned Herold about the danger inherent in keeping a chimpanzee in her home and urged her to allow Travis to be moved to her Lexington sanctuary. "You don't know my Travis," was Herold's response, Truitt said.

A Department of Environmental Protection biologist apparently wrote a memo describing Travis' living situation as "an accident waiting to happen" and gave it to senior staff at the agency's Bureau of Natural Resources months before the chimp attack.

"The animal has reached adult maturity, is very large, and tremendously strong," the memo read. "I am concerned that if he feels threatened or if someone enters his territory, he could seriously hurt someone."

Officials apparently disregarded the warning, opting "not to enter into what we believed would be a battle to take custody of a local celebrity," DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy said in a letter to legislators that was obtained by the Associated Press. Travis had previously been featured in commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola.

The attack victim, Charla Nash, reportedly went to Herold's home on the day of the attack at Herold's request. Travis had become agitated and escaped the home; when Nash arrived to help lure him back inside, he attacked her. Nash's family later filed a $50-million lawsuit against Herold, noting in the suit that the "catastrophic" injuries she sustained as a result of Travis' attack included "traumatic facial injury [including loss of her nose, upper and lower lips, eyelids and the bony structures in her mid-face]."

Interviewed on NBC's "Today" Wednesday morning, Nash said Herold's death was a sad occurrence and she didn't harbor anger toward her. Nash returned to Connecticut after an extended stay at the renowned Cleveland Clinic earlier this month; a Boston-area hospital is currently evaluating the possibility of performing face and hand transplants for her.

No criminal charges relating to Travis' attack were filed against Herold. When a state's attorney announced that there was no evidence that she had been intentionally reckless in keeping Travis at her home, her attorney said in a statement that "Ms. Herold maintains that the tragic events that took place on Feb. 16, 2009, were unforeseeable to her. ... She wishes the best for Charla and her family.''

Travis had been involved in one incident involving police prior to the 2009 attack. In 2003, he escaped Herold's car and evaded capture in downtown Stamford for several hours.

RELATED STORIES ABOUT TRAVIS' ATTACK:
Chimp attack victim feared the animal might hurt someone, brothers say
Loving chimps to death (2009 op-ed piece by primatologist Jane Goodall)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Herold with Travis at the business she owned with her husband, Desire Me Motors, in 1998. Credit: Paul Desmarais / Associated Press

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