Autopsy released on cassowary attack that killed Florida man

Posted at 10:20 AM, Aug 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 10:20:24-04

GAINESVILLE, Fla.-- The Florida man killed in a bizarre attack earlier this year by one of the world’s deadliest birds suffered deep puncture wounds and slashing cuts from the animal’s sharp talons that severed a major artery in his arm, according to a newly released autopsy.

Diagrams of injuries to Marvin Hajos, 75, show more than a dozen lacerations across his face, neck, back, abdomen, thighs, legs and right arm, including damage to his brachial artery, the major blood vessel of the upper arm.

Investigators performed the autopsy less than 24 hours after the attack in April on a farm in Alachua, northwest of Gainesville.

The bird was a flightless, exotic cassowary being bred. Such birds can stand over 6 feet tall.

Fresh Take Florida obtained a copy of the autopsy this week under the state’s public records laws, more than four months after requesting it. The sensational tragedy drew international attention because of its peculiar circumstances.

Hajos apparently fell near a fenced area where the cassowary was kept, but within striking distance of the animal’s large talons. In an audio recording of the initial 911 call, also obtained this week, Hajos himself is heard trying to give his address to a dispatcher and pleading, “Would you send an ambulance, please?” His voice sounded weak and hurried. “Ok, we’re going to get you some help,” the dispatcher assured Hajos.

His family this week declined to discuss the accident. Earlier medical reports said Hajos suffered a cardiac arrest caused by the lacerations and blood loss, as paramedics tried to save him.

Those reports include a minute-by-minute account of the ultimately unsuccessful efforts to revive and save him. Paramedics found him unresponsive and barely breathing when they began treating him roughly 14 minutes after the attack. Twice over the next 28 minutes, as paramedics applied chest compressions, his pulse didn’t register. “This was a cardiac arrest,” the report said.

Hajos had a history of heart problems and had just been released from a hospital after treatment for cellulitis, a potentially fatal bacterial skin infection. Both the newly disclosed autopsy and an interview with a death investigator for the area medical examiner, Bill Grotjahn, indicated that Hajos died from lacerations and bleeding, not any pre-existing circulatory problems. “It was an accidental death, most likely from injuries sustained from the bird,” Grotjahn said. “This had nothing to do with his heart conditions.”

On the 911 calls, after initial confusion about the farm’s street address, Hajos asked an employee to call the dispatcher back. The employee did not know details of the injuries or what had happened, but he speculated exactly: “I’m sure he got kicked by the cassowary.” “He's an old man, he’s got a lot of issues,” he said. “He was outside working in the yard, so I’m not sure if something fell on him, I’m not sure at all what it could possibly be. He just called me and said, ‘Send an ambulance, send an ambulance, send an ambulance.’”

The dispatcher warned paramedics who were on their way: “There are a lot of animals.” The paramedics treated Hajos at the scene for 12 minutes before driving to UF Health Shands Hospital. In the ambulance, as they continued their rescue efforts, his pulse surged as paramedics applied chest compressions, but five minutes later his heart stopped. Shortly before they arrived at the hospital his heart restarted, but he died a short time later.

After the attack, the cassowary was sold at the Gulf Coast Livestock Auction. Hajos was not required to have a permit to breed the birds, which are native to Australia, New Guinea or other South Pacific islands.

Even after the deadly attack, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has enacted no new rules or restrictions about owning them. “If the animals are being used for commercial breeding, they are considered domestic animals and aren’t required to have a permit,” agency spokeswoman Karen Parker said. “A permit would only be required if these animals were interacting with the public.”

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