December 17, 2014

Elyria
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Owner of killer bear faces state charges

ELYRIA — Sam Mazzola, the con­troversial owner of the bear that fatally mauled a caretaker in August, has been charged with vio­lating a state law that requires him to keep track of the animals he owns.

Sam Mazzola

Sam Mazzola

Mazzola, 48, is due in court on Wednesday for an initial appear­ance on the misdemeanor charge.

Jarod Roof, an investigator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, said that when Mazzola’s paperwork was inspected after Brent Kandra was mauled on Aug. 19, it was found not to be in order. Kandra died a few hours after he was attacked.

Owners of exotic animals who hold the same commercial license as Mazzola are required to keep track of animals they own that are native to Ohio. In Mazzola’s case that’s bears, raccoons and skunks.

“He’s properly licensed; he just didn’t keep proper records,” Roof said.

Mazzola didn’t deny Monday that his books may not have been in order. He placed the blame on new state regulations for keeping track of animals he said were imposed three years ago but were never fully explained.

“I didn’t know how to do it,” Maz­zola said. “I thought I did — they said no.”

Deirdre Herbert, Kandra’s mother, said Mazzola should face charges if his paperwork wasn’t in order.

“This just kind of goes to show Mr. Mazzola’s track record with these animals,” Herbert said. “He’s not quite on the up-and-up.”

Mazzola declined to say what kind of exotic animals he keeps on his property, although he acknowledged having bears, skunks and raccoons.

In a bankruptcy filing earlier this year, Mazzola listed two white tigers, two Bengal tigers, an African lion, eight black bears and 12 grey wolves as his property.

Mazzola has said he had Iroquois, the bear that killed Kandra, euthanized after Kandra was attacked while feeding the bear at Mazzola’s North Marks Road compound in Columbia Township.

Mazzola is currently on probation on federal charges accusing him of illegally transporting bears for display and illegally selling skunks in 2007. In the wake of Kandra’s death, he was ordered to undergo mental health counseling, a requirement he said at the time he was happy to fulfill.

Kandra’s death remains under investigation by Lorain County sheriff’s deputies — who have forwarded the case to county Prosecutor Dennis Will — as well as the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

On Monday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organization that has long been a critic of Mazzola, sent a 13-page letter to OSHA officials asking them to cite Mazzola for failure to protect employees from the hazards at his compound.

PETA contends Kandra’s death would amount to a “willful” violation punishable by a fine of up to $70,000.

“Confined to cramped cages and denied everything that’s natural and important to them, including any semblance of a life, these bears become ticking time bombs,” said PETA Director Debbie Leahy. “Mazzola must be held accountable for repeatedly putting his workers at risk.”

Jule Hovi, director of OSHA’s Toledo office, said she received the letter and the investigation into Kandra’s death is continuing.

Mazzola contends he was not paying Kandra at the time of the attack and that Kandra was not an employee.

Whether or not Kandra was an employee is at the center of Workers’ Comp investigation because he would have been required to have workers’ compensation insurance if he had any employees.

Mazzola hasn’t had workers compensation coverage in several years.

Kandra’s family contends he did receive pay from Mazzola at times.

PETA argues that Kandra’s death could have been prevented had Mazzola used a protected-contact system, including barriers and shift cages so caretakers do not come into direct contact with the animals.

Protected contact eliminates direct contact between animals and their caretakers and is standard practice in captive-bear husbandry, according to PETA.

Mazzola said Monday he has “shift cages,” but Kandra made the decision himself to enter the bear’s cage and play with him.

“He wanted to play with the bear,” Mazzola said. “I played with two of them yesterday and had a great time — the bears enjoy the interaction.”

But PETA contends Mazzola should know the dangers of dealing with bears because he needed 2,000 stitches himself after a bear attack, and another employee of Mazzola’s stated that he had been bitten by every animal in Mazzola’s facility.

Mazzola said he still has “the same people coming here for years” helping him with the animals and they are not asked to do anything they don’t want to do.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com and Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.