SAN FRANCISCO – Authorities in Central California said Thursday that a volunteer worker killed in a lion attack at an animal park accidentally caused her own death by leaving the animal's door open.
Fresno County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Wilkins said that his office has closed its investigation of Dianna Hanson's death by determining it was an "unfortunate accident."
"We've determined that it was an accident and there was no criminal liability toward the park's owner," Wilkins said. "Based on the results of the investigation, it was an accident."
Wilkins said Hanson, a 24-year-old intern at Cat Haven, failed to secure the door to a feeding cage where the lion was sitting while she cleaned an adjacent closure.
Hanson's family had been kept in the loop as the sheriff's office probe was taking place, Wilkins said. They were notified quickly when the investigation was completed, the sheriff's captain said.
"She accidentally left the door open. It was an unfortunate accident," Wilkins added. "The case is closed."
A 550-pound Barbary lion named Cous Cous escaped from the partially closed feeding cage on March 6 and struck Hanson, who died immediately from a broken neck, according to the coroner's autopsy report.
Sheriff's deputies shot the lion after it couldn't be coaxed away from Hanson's body.
The sheriff's office investigation comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently found that Cat Haven, a 100-acre private zoo run by the nonprofit group Project Survival, had proper safety procedures in place for feeding the animals and cleaning the enclosures.
Hanson's family told The Associated Press last month that they believe no rules were broken at the wild animal park in Dunlap, Calif., and that her death was not a mauling, but rather a tragic accident.
"We're thankful to know she didn't suffer," Hanson's brother, Paul R. Hanson, said. "It wasn't a vicious attack ... because you would expect severe lacerations and biting on the neck and that was not the case."
Hanson had been working for two months as an intern at Cat Haven. Her father, Paul Hanson, described his daughter last month as a "fearless" lover of big cats and said her goal was to work with the animals at an accredited zoo.
She died doing what she loved, he said.