Evidence in mauling victims' car points to alcohol, drug use

The revived criminal investigation into the fatal Christmas Day tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo is focusing on the car and cell phones belonging to the San Jose brothers injured in the mauling.

More than three weeks after a 350-pound Siberian tiger leapt from her enclosure, killing 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and injuring Kulbir and Paul Dhaliwal, police obtained a search warrant late Tuesday and are investigating the car and phones belonging to the brothers, police Sgt. Neville Gittens said Wednesday.

Police obtained access to the Dhaliwals’ property just hours before the City Attorney’s Office separately petitioned a Santa Clara County judge to authorize a search of the car and cellular phones. The city attorney is asking for information for a possible investigation if a civil lawsuit is filed.

Evidence in the car points to “recent drug or alcohol use leading up to the incident,” the City Attorney’s Office claims in court documents. The City said it was also concerned that something inside the car relates to objects found inside the grotto “that may have been used to pelt or taunt the tiger.”

According to the court documents, zoo security guard Lamar Harris-Walker discovered a BMW M3 with tinted windows in the zoo's parking lot the day after the mauling. It was the only car in the parking lot because the zoo was closed.

Later that evening, Harris-Walker claimed two young men tried to “retrieve their friend’s car” and when they were rejected they asked to “retrieve belongings from the car, including a cellular telephone.” Harris-Walker was also the one to discover “a half-empty bottle of a clear alcoholic beverage” through the window of the car.

A judge didn’t rule on the city attorney’s petition, and a decision isn’t expected until Friday.

The brothers’ attorney, Mark Geragos, did not return calls for comment, but he has previously said the zoo is using the accusations as part of a “vicious, defamatory smear campaign.” He has also said the criminal investigation has never been focused on his clients but on the zoo.

Zoo spokesman Sam Singer said the fact that the investigation’s focus has turned toward the Dhaliwals is good news for the public.

bbegin@examiner.com  

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