The founder of a Maine facility that cares for circus elephants was found dead in the animals' barn, after one of the elephants apparently stepped on and killed him, police say.
Knox County Sheriff deputies say they found 56-year-old James Laurita unresponsive on Tuesday morning. Police initially said that Laurita appeared to have fallen and struck his head on a cement floor.
According to the Knox County Sheriff's Office, the state medical examiner's office conducted an autopsy on Tuesday and the actual cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation. Investigators said they believe that Laurita was on the ground from a fall and was accidentally stepped on by an elephant, causing internal injuries with multiple fractures that ultimately caused asphyxia. His death has been declared accidental.
Laurita founded Hope Elephants with his brother in 2011. The elephants, named Rosie and Opal, arrived in 2012.
Laurita was a veterinarian who also worked with circus animals. Tending to the animals was part of his daily routine at the facility.
The Hope Elephants facility is about seven miles northwest of Camden.