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Elephant owner charged in trampling

A federal agency charges that Manuel Ramos failed to restrain his elephant and prevent disease.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


Federal inspectors have levied charges against the Riverview circus owner whose elephant killed a woman in January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week.

Manuel Ramos, 58, is charged with failing to keep an enclosure of sufficient strength for an African elephant. The animal, named Kenya, trampled Ramos' sister, 52-year-old Teresa Ramos-Caballero.

"We believe that Ramos' failure to properly restrain an elephant contributed to a woman's death," said W. Ron DeHaven, a USDA deputy administrator for animal care.

Ramos is also charged with failing to prevent disease, by not having his elephant handlers tested for tuberculosis. Both counts fall under the Animal Welfare Act.

The administrative charges could lead to fines as high as $2,500 per count, per day the offense was committed, saidJim Rogers, a USDA spokesman.

Ramos also faces possible suspension or revocation of his animal exhibitor's license, Rogers said.

Ramos of Baytree Drive in Riverview could not be reached for comment Monday. His wife, Gusti Ramos, said Monday evening: "We're looking into getting a lawyer. We're kind of upset with all of this, going on and going on and going on."

Rogers, the USDA spokesman, said Ramos did not respond within the allotted time to the charges inspectors said they planned to lodge.

"At this point, two things can happen," Rogers said. "He can go to a hearing before a U.S. Department of Agriculture administrative law judge. Or he can make a settlement out of court."

At the hearing, which would be at the USDA's own administrative court rather than a state or federal civil courtroom, USDA inspectors would present evidence to support their charges, Rogers said.

"When we bring charges, that means we're ready to go to court to prove what we know," Rogers said.

Ramos already is facing state misdemeanor charges that he failed to properly supervise or restrain Kenya, and that he kept lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards in cages that were too small for them. Ramos has pleaded not guilty to those charges. His next hearing in the state case is scheduled for June 21. Two previous hearings were continued because Ramos didn't have a lawyer.

Ramos has previously fought off charges he improperly housed his collection of circus animals. The USDA fined Ramos twice in the 1990s after finding animal welfare violations.

Nine days after the fatal trampling in January, the 23-year-old, 21/2-ton Kenya unexpectedly collapsed and died. Wildlife officials said preliminary necropsy results indicate that the elephant died of natural causes.

- Information from Times files was used in this report. Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or dougherty@sptimes.com.

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