Updated

Elephants trample Grimes County man

By TOM COYNE

Associated Press

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Elephants being loaded onto a truck trampled to death a circus animal trainer after the Grimes County man fell down inside the trailer, authorities said.

Pierre Spenle, 40, of Plantersville was trying to leave the trailer after the circus Monday when a security bar he was holding on to gave way, Coroner Jon Brandenberger said.

More than one of the three Asian elephants — each weighing more than 7,000 pounds — then stomped on him, the coroner said.

“Once he’s on the floor, animal trainers will tell you, he’s no longer the trainer. He’s another object as if he were a basketball or whatever thrown in among the elephants’ feet,” Brandenberger said.

The coroner said the elephants likely began stepping on him out of curiosity, not out of aggressiveness. He said it is natural for elephants to kick and stomp on anything they cannot see.

The accident happened in the parking lot as the circus was packing up after performing in the Fort Wayne Mizpah Shrine temple’s annual circus.

Larry Solheim, general manager of the Tarzan Zerbini Circus, said Tuesday that the trainer had been working with the elephants for 18 years.

He said the animals were being taken to an undisclosed location where they will be monitored. Whether they will return to the circus depends on an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Indiana Department of Labor, Solheim said.

No one witnessed the fatal stomping because two other animal handlers who had helped load the elephants into the trailer had left Spenle alone to latch one last gate and secure the animals, officials said.

Elephants are the largest of all land animals, and depending on the sex and species, they can reach 13 feet in height and weigh 6.5 tons, according to the Humane Society of the United States’ Web site. Captive elephants from 1990 to 2003 killed 65 people and injured 130, according to Circuses.com.

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