By Craig Smith
James Laurita fell while caring for elephants
HOPE, Maine —The Knox County Sheriff's Department says the founder of Hope Elephants was killed in an accident Tuesday morning.
The Sheriff's Department said paramedics were called to the facility and found Dr. James Laurita, 56, of Hope, dead inside a corral for the elephants.
The Maine State Medical Examiner's Office said Laurita was crushed by one of the elephants.
Officials at the Medical Examiner's Office said the cause of death was asphyxiation with multiple fractures and compression of the chest.
Officials said the death was accidental.
The Sheriff's Department said the investigation shows that after Laurita was on the ground from a fall that one of the elephants accidentally stepped on him causing his death.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it is investigating Laurita's death.
In a statement posted on their website Tuesday afternoon, Hope Elephants says they are "deeply saddened" by the Laurita's death.
"Jim's passion for all animals, but especially elephants, was boundless," the statement read in part. "It was Jim's ability (to) share that passion with all around him that not only helped to make our organization a reality, but also enriched and enhanced the lives of all those who had a chance to know Jim."
Hope Elephants provides a home for injured and aging elephants.
The website also said Laurita gave up his veterinary practice in Camden in 2011 to help establish Hope Elephants.