Tiger Watch

14 01 2008

In a frantic call to 911, Kulbir Dhaliwal repeatedly pleaded for police and medical crews to help his brother after a tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo, saying the situation was “life and death” and asking that a helicopter be brought in to rescue him. “How long does it take?” Dhaliwal, 23, said to the 911 dispatcher after the escaped tiger attacked his 19-year-old brother, Paul, on Christmas Day, and killed their friend Carlos Sousa Jr., 17.“Man, it does not take this long to get an ambulance out here,” Kulbir Dhaliwal said in a cell phone call he placed to 911 after the tiger got loose sometime before 5:04 p.m. He suggested that he had already spent 10 minutes during an earlier call waiting for help, but there is no record of any other call. Dhaliwal’s call ended after nearly seven minutes at 5:23 p.m., about the time the tiger attacked him as he tried to help his brother at the zoo’s Terrace Cafe. The San Jose residents had fled there after the animal got out of its outdoor grotto. By that time, paramedics still had not reached the brothers, and Sousa was mortally wounded.

Tapes of some of the calls placed to 911 after the Siberian tiger got loose were released this morning. The 911 dispatcher repeatedly ordered Kulbir Dhaliwal to calm down and tried to explain that paramedics were being kept outside the zoo because of fears the tiger might attack them. She also gave him instructions on how to control bleeding, but specific references to bleeding were deleted from the tapes that San Francisco officials released today. In his 5:16 p.m. call to 911, Dhaliwal did not make reference to the attack on Sousa. However, he and his brother had apparently mentioned a third person injured to zoo officials, according to other 911 recordings. The 911 dispatcher appeared to think the brothers were inside a zoo building at the time, an apparent miscommunication, but was aware that a tiger was on the loose and had attacked someone. Dhaliwal’s cell phone call came 12 minutes after a zoo security official made the initial report to 911, a call that was also recorded in tapes released today.  In that first call, zoo radio transmissions were recorded. About 5:06 p.m., operations manager Deb Howe said two people at the Terrace Cafe “are screaming about an animal that has attacked them, but there’s no animal out. He’s talking about a third person, and I don’t see a third person.” A zoo security officer told the dispatcher, “He’s saying he was bitten by an animal, but there is no animal escaped – he could just be crazy.” Howe told zoo official Alan Feinberg that a lion might have gotten out, and Feinberg replied, “That’s virtually impossible. … I can’t imagine how he could possibly have gotten attacked by a lion.” Four minutes later, at 5:10 p.m., Howe realized what had happened and ordered an emergency lockdown. “I’ve got a tiger out. Code one,” she said. “What?!” a startled Feinberg replied. Howe then apparently left the brothers. Dhaliwal, who was defenseless at the Terrace Cafe when he made his 5:16 p.m. call, repeatedly told the 911 dispatcher that the situation was urgent. “Can you check up on them and see where they at?” he asked at one point. The dispatcher responded that they are on scene right now, but they have to stage until they are given permission to go inside.” A frantic Dhaliwal replied, “It’s a matter of life and death! How can they wait for permission to go in?” “I understand that,” replied the dispatcher, “but at the same time, we have to make sure the paramedics don’t get chewed out … because, if the paramedics get hurt, then nobody is going to help you…” “What do you mean?” Dhaliwal answered. “My brother’s going to die out here.” “OK, calm down, all right,” the dispatcher replied. “It’s a matter of life and death,” Dhaliwal said. “I’m not going to let him die like that.” “I’ll stay on the line with you,” the dispatcher said. “If the paramedics get hurt they cannot help your brother, so you need to calm down and…”

“Send more paramedics then!” Dhaliwal said. The dispatcher replied, “You are going to be the best help for your brother right now, so you need to calm down and help him until we can get there, sir, all right? So I’m going to stay on the line with you. ” “Can you fly a helicopter right here? Because I don’t see no f- ambulance here,” Dhaliwal said. The dispatcher again told him, “OK, stay calm! You have to stay calm for your brother, all right?” Police, who had gotten onto the zoo grounds about the time Dhaliwal made his 911 call, found the tiger at the cafe and shot it to death as it was attacking Kulbir. Both brothers were hospitalized for several days with head wounds.