PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The family of a man found dead earlier this month at the Oregon Zoo plans to file a civil lawsuit against the zoo.
Carl Ross Sr. went to a concert at the zoo to see one of his favorite bands on the night of Aug. 10 — but he never made it home.
The 62-year-old’s body was found the morning of Aug. 12 in the construction site of the new rhino exhibit — which doesn’t have any animals in it.
Ross’ family hired a private investigator and attorney Michael Fuller in an effort to find answers. They say Ross’ glasses and keys are still missing, although the Oregon Zoo states they were handed over to police.
The family believes Ross fell.
On Aug. 15, the family issued an intent to sue the Oregon Zoo, among others, if they can find evidence of negligence.
The tort claim reads, in part:
“The employees at the Oregon Zoo were notified of his disappearance and did not follow proper protocol, such as but not limited to, notifying all staff, attempting to locate Mr. Ross, locking down the Zoo. It is unknown if they attempted to search the Oregon Zoo and or construction areas next to the Amphitheatre where the Oregon Zoo concert was being held that night or the days after. Additionally, the Oregon Zoo is undergoing extensive construction and renovations to a few of their exhibits, namely the Black Rhino Exhibit where Mr. Ross was found dead 2 days after he was reported missing. The construction areas are not well secured with gates that are easily opened or left ajar. Security guards are not posted at the entrance and exit to the construction zones. This and the lack of effort to locate Mr. Ross lead directly to his death.”
The Oregon Zoo, meanwhile, says it doesn’t have a record of Ross being reported missing to security on the night of his disappearance.
“However, we are currently interviewing all staff and volunteers who were working the event that evening,” zoo officials informed KOIN 6 News in an email. “We do know that a Portland Police officer left a voicemail for our public safety manager the following night (Sunday at 8:31 p.m.) regarding a missing person’s report filed by Mr. Ross’s family that evening (Sunday, 5:43 p.m.). The PPB recording did not suggest that Mr. Ross might still be on zoo grounds and the tone of the message is not urgent. Our public safety manager gave the PPD’s description of Mr. Ross to staff, advising them to be on the lookout.”
Zoo officials added that they don’t know how Ross ended up in the area where he was later discovered but said he would have had to cross several barriers and security staff to get there.
“Mr. Ross is a 62-year-old deacon in his church, grandfather; he is not in the condition to be entering any inaccessible areas in the zoo,” Fuller told KOIN 6 News. “He certainly didn’t climb any fences or evade any security guards to get where they found him.”
Fuller told KOIN 6 News he thinks the zoo has not been fully transparent and is withholding information.
“I think it is looking like a cover-up,” Fuller said. “If the zoo would just sit down with the employees and be honest with the family, we would feel a lot better about things but the fact is, the zoo was not honest with the family from the outset.”
Fuller said he wants access to security camera footage and witness interviews.
“Unfortunately, the zoo’s attorneys have prohibited us from accessing that information,” he said.
However, the Oregon Zoo has stated this is untrue. They said they will “of course provide access to key witnesses as part of the litigation process.” They also said they have security cameras in some areas of the zoo, but none that provide footage of the area in question.
The Oregon Zoo released the following statement on Thursday:
“Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of Carl Ross Sr. They have experienced a tremendous loss and it is understandable that they want to know what happened. We are continuing to look for answers as well. The county medical examiner is working to determine the cause of death, and zoo staff have been trying to determine how and when Mr. Ross might have entered the construction area.”
This is a developing story and KOIN 6 News will continue to follow it.