By MEGHAN BARR
CLEVELAND — An exotic-animal keeper who made headlines after one of his bears killed a caretaker was found dead and chained to his bed, asphyxiated in an apparent accident during sexual role-playing, authorities said.
Sam Mazzola, 49, was found last week face down on his water bed, wearing a mask and with his arms and legs restrained, said Dr. Frank P. Miller III, a pathologist at the Lorain County coroner’s office. He had choked on a sex toy, Miller said in an e-mailed statement.
Mazzola’s body was found on Friday at his home in Columbia Township, about 15 miles southwest of Cleveland.
Someone else was at the home and helped Mazzola undertake the acts but left before he died, Miller told The News-Herald of Willoughby. Sheriff’s officials ruled out suicide and homicide but are still investigating the manner of death, the newspaper reported.
The coroner’s office did not return calls from The Associated Press, and the sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last summer, 24-year-old Brent Kandra was killed by a bear after opening its cage on Mazzola’s property for a routine feeding. Though animal-rights activists had wanted Mazzola charged with reckless homicide, Kandra’s death was ruled a workplace accident. The bear was later destroyed.
About two weeks later, a federal judge ordered that Mazzola receive mental treatment and tightened his probation requirements, which had been ordered after he pleaded guilty in 2009 to transporting a black bear and selling a skunk without a license.
It was unclear how many animals remained on the property when he died, but Mazzola had said in a bankruptcy filing in May 2010 that he owned four tigers, a lion, eight bears and 12 wolves. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had revoked his license to exhibit animals after animal rights activists campaigned for him to stop letting people wrestle with another one of his bears.
He had permits for nine bears for 2010, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The state requires permits for bears but doesn’t regulate the ownership of nonnative animals, such as lions and tigers.
In March, Mazzola pleaded no contest in Elyria Municipal Court to failing to keep proper animal records and was fined $250. A judge gave him six months to get his animal records in compliance with state law.