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Police: Founder of Maine elephant rehab facility was crushed by one of his animals

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2012 file photo, Jim Laurita, executive director and foounder of Hope Elephants, feeds a carrot to one of the two retired circus elephants at his not-for-profit rehabilitation and educational facility in Hope, Maine. Knox County Sheriff deputies said Laurita was found dead Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in the animals' barn. Police say Laurita appeared to have fallen and struck his head on a cement floor. A medical examiner will determine his cause of death. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2012 file photo, Jim Laurita, executive director and foounder of Hope Elephants, feeds a carrot to one of the two retired circus elephants at his not-for-profit rehabilitation and educational facility in Hope, Maine. Knox County Sheriff deputies said Laurita was found dead Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in the animals' barn. Police say Laurita appeared to have fallen and struck his head on a cement floor. A medical examiner will determine his cause of death. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)  (The Associated Press)

Police say the founder of a Maine facility that cares for retired circus elephants was killed when one of the animals stepped on him.

Knox County Sheriff's Office deputies say they found 56-year-old James Laurita unresponsive in the barn on Tuesday morning. Police say they believe Laurita fell before one of his two elephants stepped on his chest, apparently accidentally.

Laurita founded the facility in Hope, Maine, with his brother, Tom, in 2011. The two Asian elephants, Rosie and Opal, arrived in 2012.

Laurita was a veterinarian who sold his practice in nearby Camden in 2011 to establish Hope Elephants, where he worked as a caregiver and educator.

He had worked with Opal and Rosie decades ago when he was an elephant handler for the traveling Carson & Barnes Circus.