HARTFORD, Conn. – A Connecticut woman mauled and blinded by a chimpanzee in February had feared the animal might hurt someone and described him as mean and so strong that she had to repair his cage several times, her brothers said.
Michael and Stephen Nash's comments to The Associated Press provides the first public look at Charla Nash's dealings with Travis, a 200-pound chimpanzee that went berserk when his owner asked Nash to help lure him back into his house. The chimp ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids, and she has been hospitalized for months at the Cleveland Clinic, where she is in stable condition.
Nash was a friend and employee of the chimp's owner, Sandra Herold of Stamford, Conn. Nash's family has filed a $50 million lawsuit against Herold, saying she was negligent and reckless for lacking the ability to control "a wild animal with violent propensities."
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Nash's brother Stephen said his sister mentioned problems people had with Travis, but he declined to elaborate.
"She even said she thought Travis might hurt somebody but she didn't think it would be her," Stephen Nash said.
Another brother, Michael Nash, said his sister welded Travis's cage a few times after the animal had damaged it by banging it and throwing objects around his cage.
"He kept breaking it. It wasn't sturdy enough for him," Michael Nash said.
Herold's attorney, Robert Golger, has said there was no way to predict Travis would attack Nash. He questioned why Nash would voluntarily go to Herold's house if she was afraid of the chimpanzee.
Travis was normally in his cage when Nash visited, Stephen Nash said. "She got lulled into a false sense of security because he hadn't bothered her."
The 14-year-old chimp was shot and killed by police Feb. 16 when he tried to attack a police officer responding to the assault on Nash. Test results showed that Travis had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in his system at the time of the attack.
Travis starred in TV commercials when he was young and lived a life of luxury with Herold, dining on fine foods and sometimes drinking wine from long-stemmed glasses. But there were increasing signs of trouble as the animal grew stronger and neared adolescence — Travis allegedly bit two people in the 1990s and escaped in 2003, prompting several warnings to state officials.
A state biologist warned officials last October that Travis could seriously hurt someone if he felt threatened and said that officials had not determined if his enclosure was strong enough. The state Department of Environmental Protection is in charge of monitoring exotic animals in Connecticut. Nash's family has declined to say if they will file a lawsuit against the state or others.
Nash's family said she's continuing to make progress at the Cleveland Clinic, which performed the nation's first facial transplant. Officials there have said it's too early to determine if Nash would be a candidate for the procedure.
Nash remembers getting out of her car that day to help her friend lure the animal back in the house, her brothers say. She does not recall the attack, but her brother sees hints of the trauma in a recurring dream and a panic attack she had in the hospital.
"They kept dragging me in the car and wouldn't let me sleep," Nash said, according to her brother Michael. "It was a dirty car."
Michael Nash said he thinks his sister's dream is her recollection of the ambulance and efforts to save her life.
During the panic attack, Nash screamed for her brother. "Help me. They're hurting me. They were hurting me," she said.
Michael Nash said his sister became agitated after a hospital aide tried to help her to the bathroom. "I think grabbing just created a reaction, an instinctual fear of being attacked," he said.
Nash continues to make progress, her brothers said. One day she was saying the Hail Mary.
"It amazes me," Michael Nash said. "Her mental abilities have really come back."
Not long ago she was in denial about what happened, insisting Travis attacked someone else. But then she acknowledged Travis hurt her, Michael Nash said.
"I knew it when I got out of the car something was wrong," she said, according to her brother.
Nash has gradually taken more interest in her medical care, exercising and even marveled at how she does everything in the dark, Michael Nash said. She also wanted to throw a pizza party for her daughter.
"I think I'd be in a fetal position," Michael Nash said.