Family files claim in tiger-mauling death

The family of the San Jose teenager who was slain by an escaped tiger in December filed a claim against The City and the San Francisco Zoo on Thursday alleging wrongful death and negligence and calling for monetary compensation and court-ordered improvements to the zoo.

The claim asks for an unspecified amount of money from The City, which owns the zoo property and all the animals within, as well as the San Francisco Zoological Society, which manages and operates the zoo.

It was Christmas Day when the Siberian tiger escaped her enclosure, attacking San Jose brothers Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal and killing their friend, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. Police said Sousa was fatally wounded in the throat after distracting the tiger away from one of the brothers. The tiger was subsequently shot and killed by four San Francisco police officers.

Investigations revealed that the big-cat enclosure was about 4 feet shorter than national standards. There were also complications due to disbelief from zoo staff members, limited access to radios and guns, and a lean holiday crew.

The Dhaliwal brothers have filed a similar claim, which was recently denied by The City. Unlike the Dhaliwal claim, however, the Sousa claim asks for more than financial damages. It also calls for an injunction “mandating that the City and County of San Francisco meet all minimum enclosure requirements recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums,” as well as safety upgrades.

Ensuring that an animal attack never happens at the zoo again was an important aspect of the claim, according to Sousa’s father, Carlos Sousa Sr.

“I love him very much and there’s nothing that could ever replace him,” Sousa Sr. said on Thursday. “We’re all going through a lot of pain right now, and I just hope that nobody has to go through this again.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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