Co-founder of elephant care center killed

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Co-founder of elephant care center killed
FILE - In this file photo made Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, Jim Laurita, executive director of Hope Elephants, feeds a carrot to one of the two retired circus elephants at his not-for-profit rehabilitation and educational facility in Hope, Maine. The veterinarian and co-founder of Hope Elephants, which cares for retired circus elephants, was killed Tuesday Sept. 9, 2014 when one of the animals stepped on him, police said in ruling his death an accident. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
In this photo made Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, a retired circus elephant plays with a yoga ball at Hope Elephants, a not-for-profit rehabilitation and educational facility in Hope, Maine. In Maine, a state known for moose and lobsters, two Asian elephants have found themselves a new home. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
In this photo made Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, Opal and Rosie, retired circus elephants, look forward to drinking from a large bucket of water at Hope Elephants, a not-for-profit rehabilitation and educational facility in Hope, Maine. In Maine, a state known for moose and lobsters, the two Asian elephants have found themselves a new home. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Hope Elephants co-founder Jim Laurita was accidentally killed when one of their two rehabilitated elephants stepped on him.

(Photo by hopeelephants.org)

Message that appeared on hopeelephants.org

Rosie and Opal are the two elephants at Hope Elephants where Jim Laurita was killed. 

(Photo by hopeelephants.org)

One of the elephants that are located at the Hope Elephants  non-profit where Jim Laurita was killed.

(Photo by hopeelephants.org)

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By PATRICK WHITTLE

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A veterinarian and co-founder of Hope Elephants, which cares for retired circus elephants, was killed when one of the animals stepped on him, police said in ruling his death an accident.

Knox County Sheriff's Office deputies said they found James Laurita, 56, unresponsive Tuesday in the barn at the foundation in Hope, about 90 miles northeast of Portland.

Laurita appeared to have fallen before one of the foundation's two elephants apparently stepped on him, police said, citing a medical examiner's report.

Tending to the animals was part of Laurita's daily routine at the facility he founded with his brother Tom in 2011. Hope Foundation's two Asian elephants, Rosie and Opal, arrived in 2012.

"The elephant was not aggressive in any way. It was clearly an accident," said Mark Belserene, administrator for the state medical examiner's office, who added that the official cause of death is "asphyxiation and multiple fractures caused by compression of the chest."

Laurita sold his veterinarian practice in nearby Camden in 2011 to establish Hope Elephants, where he worked as a caregiver and educator. He lived with his family in the area.

Laurita had worked with Opal and Rosie decades ago when he was an elephant handler for the traveling Carson & Barnes Circus.

County Chief Deputy Tim Carroll described Laurita as "greatly beloved in the community for all the work he does." Hope Elephants released a statement saying the organization was "deeply saddened" by the loss of its founder.

"Jim's passion for all animals, but especially elephants, was boundless," the statement said.

Laurita "passed on his passion and the importance of wildlife conservation" through his educational outreach efforts, it said.

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