PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - The family of a 62-year-old man found dead inside one of the Oregon zoo’s exhibits, after attending a concert there, has filed a tort claim against the zoo and Metro, the agency which operates it.
When FOX 12 last spoke with the family of Carl Ross Sr., they were grieving and outraged.
“If there’s a lost child they’re going to put all their resources out and shut things down until they find it. We have a man that was lost at a venue and they didn’t find him for days,” said Ross’s nephew, Dominique Deweese.
At the time, zoo official said no animals, staff or contractors were involved in Ross’s death. However, the Ross family says they were left with many questions, including how their beloved patriarch ended up dead inside a rhino habitat that was being renovated.
"I think somewhere, the ball got dropped,” says Perlia Bell, the sister of Ross.
According to Bell, “now we have a daughter without a father, a wife that can't even come talk on television because she's so distraught and we have a son that's in the army that is flying in to bury his father."
The Portland Police Bureau tells FOX 12 it does not suspect foul play. According to the family’s attorney, they have not yet received the results of an autopsy report, so it is still unclear how Ross died.
“Unfortunately, it's starting to look almost somewhat like a coverup,” says Michael Fuller, one of the attorneys representing the family.
Fuller filed a tort claim on the family’s behalf last week, against the Oregon Zoo and Metro, alleging possible negligence. The tort claim cites a “lack of effort” to find Ross and states the construction area was not well secured.
“Originally they were told there's no way Mr. Ross could have got into this area because it was guarded by personnel and he would have had to basically climb a fence,” Fuller says. According to him, “Mr. Ross is a 62-year-old retiree. He's not climbing any fences.”
A photo Ross’s family took of the rhino exhibit after his death shows metal and wooden fencing around the construction zone.
An Oregon Zoo spokesman tells FOX 12, officials don’t know how he got in the exhibit, but he would have needed to cross several barriers to do so.
The zoo also says, on concert nights, there is security staff throughout its grounds and near off-limits areas of the zoo, to ensure safety.
Despite these claims, Fuller believes officials are hindering the investigation, though an Oregon Zoo spokesperson denies that.
“We believe there is video evidence of what happened,” Fuller says. “We know there are witnesses who were alerted, who work for the security company, who were told repeatedly there's a missing person on these premises.”
Fuller says his team has also reached out to the construction company contracted to renovate the zoo’s rhino exhibit requesting all evidence in this case, including surveillance video and an incident report.
As for what happens next, Fuller tells FOX 12, depending on what evidence they find, they may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Oregon Zoo and Metro.
Fuller says his clients want to ensure no other family endures what they have. The Ross family also wants answers, he says.
“They're entitled to answers and we intend to get them,” Fuller said.
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