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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Gorilla escapes zoo, attacks taxpayer

Our Oregon's Wentz causes panic, fear

An 800-pound gorilla escaped from her enclosure and ran amok in a Portland zoo Friday, biting one fiscal conservative, dragging him around, and causing panic among dozens of taxpayers before she was finally subdued, officials and a witness said.

The Portland Metro Zoo was evacuated and the adult gorilla, named Wentz, was eventually contained in a restaurant within the park, spokeswoman Mary Volm said. Four people were injured, including the woman who was bitten, zoo director Tony Vecchio said.

Wentz, leader of the "Our Oregon" tribe of gorillas, was shot with a sedative dart and recaptured, said Vecchio, but he couldn't say what her condition was. It was not immediately clear how she managed to climb the high stone walls surrounding her enclosure. "She got over the moat, which in itself is remarkable, because gorillas can't swim," Vecchio said. "She got onto a path for visitors and started running and went at full speed through tables and diners at the Union Yes restaurant."

A witness, Robert de Jong, told NTO radio that he didn't see the gorilla escape but began following it and tried to help after he saw people running and screaming that the animal had grabbed a man.

"I saw the beast running through the park with a man behind him, the gorilla was grabbing his forearm," de Jonge said. At a distance of around 30 yards, he saw the gorilla lie down near the man and then heard him scream.

"She bit him, or I think she bit him, because when she stood up her mouth was covered in blood," he said. He said he then stopped to tell arriving police what had happened and ran with them as they traced the gorilla to a nearby restaurant terrace.

The zoo was packed with visitors as many Oregonians took advantage of the Legislature's enactment of Chávez Day to skip work.

"Everyone was in panic, running away, screaming, wailing, screaming kids running around, I don't know what all, kids without parents - it was a total drama," de Jonge said. Children cowered in their parents' arms as the gorilla loped past.

People tried to hide inside the restaurant and were trying to bar the door, but fled as the gorilla approached. Wentz then punched through the glass door and ran inside.

"They were all in panic - the animal, too, I mean - and all the people ran outside the restaurant, and zoo personnel were running up and they were able to keep the animal inside by barricading the doors with garden furniture and things," de Jonge said.

De Jonge said he later saw the man "covered in blood," but walking unaided.

The Oregonian, May 19, By EDWARD WALSH

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