Published November 11, 2009
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A Connecticut woman who was attacked by a 200-pound chimpanzee says she repeatedly warned the animal's owner that the primate was dangerous and could hurt someone.
In a telephone interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Charla Nash said she saw the chimpanzee throw large objects around his cage, flash his teeth and pound the bars so violently his hands would bleed and the cage had to be rewelded.
Nash, who appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Wednesday, said she told the owner, Sandra Herold, eight or 10 times he was dangerous.
The Feb. 16 attack occurred when Herold asked her friend Nash to help lure the animal back into her house in Stamford. The chimpanzee ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids.
Police shot and killed the animal. Nash has been hospitalized since. She remains in stable condition at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Nash told Winfrey that she is not in pain, but can't breathe through her nose and has to eat through a straw. She said she doesn't touch her face very often.
"I know that I have my forehead," Nash said. "It feels like just patches of tape or gauze or covering, covering my face."
It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago, when an eye doctor told Nash she no longer had her eyes, that she realized she would never see again, she said. Nash said she doesn't ask many questions about her injuries.
"It's like less for me to worry about if I don't know," she said.
Nash said she didn't remember anything from the attack and doesn't want to.
"I want to get healthy," she said. "I don't want to wake up with nightmares."
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."
Herold's attorney has argued the attack was work-related and the case should be treated as a workers' compensation claim. Herold's attorney, Robert Golger, provided Winfrey with a statement, saying Herold wishes Nash the best.
"All of Sandy's hopes and prayers are with Charla and her daughter in this challenging time," the statement read. "Sandy hopes and prays for a full and speedy recovery."
Earlier this month, Nash's family filed notice with Connecticut's Office of Claims Commissioner, asking for permission to sue the state for $150 million, saying officials failed to prevent the attack. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has said his office is reviewing the claim.
Herold owned the 14-year-old chimp, named Travis, nearly all its life. When he was younger, Travis starred in TV commercials and took part in a television pilot. The animal also played a role in Herold's towing business, appearing at the garage and attending promotional events.
A Connecticut state biologist had warned state officials beforehand that the chimp could seriously hurt someone. The animal had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in its system, according to toxicology tests, but investigators don't know whether the drug played a role in the attack.
Nash told Winfrey that the animal had once ripped out a hunk of her hair.
"He was big and scary," she said. "He was huge."
Nash said she wants to warn people about potential dangers posed by exotic animals.
"I'd like to put across to people's minds that these exotic animals are very dangerous and they shouldn't be around," Nash said. "There's a place for them that is not in residential areas, that's for sure."
Even if she isn't feeling well, Nash said she pushes herself to go for a walk during the day. She wears a veil so she doesn't scare people and to avoid insults.
"I'm the same person I've always been," she said. "I just look different."
Her daughter is a high school senior and Nash said she's sorry they can't spend more time together. She said she would like to have helped her daughter pick out a prom dress.
"I know she misses me," Nash said. "I miss her, too."
Nash said she is feeling stronger and healthier. She said she's always been a strong person and liked to be alone, but since the attack that has changed.
"I want to be independent," Nash said. "But I don't want to be alone anymore. It's scary."