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Tiny trucks carry heartfelt gesture for toddler killed at Pittsburgh Zoo

| Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, 12:14 a.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The Trucks for Maddox display for a toy drive in honor of Maddox Derkosh at the William Slater II Funeral Home in Greentree Thursday Nov. 8, 2012. Derkosh, 2, of Whitehall, was killed by African painted dog at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012.
Maddox Derkosh, 2, of Whitehall was killed Nov. 4, 2012, when he fell into the African painted dogs exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

They came in all colors, from mourners, friends and strangers.

Hundreds of toy trucks began stacking up in rooms Thursday at William Slater II Funeral Home in tribute to the Whitehall boy who died at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. By evening, the Tonka, CAT, Fisher Price and Lego trucks lined walls, tables and furnishings.

“I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for this family,” said Betty Borzilleri, office manager for the funeral home in Scott. “It's just phenomenal.”

She estimated people dropped off more than 1,500 construction toy trucks by evening.

The visitation for Maddox Derkosh, 2, was held at the funeral home from 2 to 8 p.m., but people had begun bringing toys on Wednesday.

The family requested the toys in lieu of flowers, and planned to donate them to a children's charity for Christmas.

“It's a sad and tragic thing that happened, and I wanted to show that my family is with his family,” said Elaine Donovan, 54, of Green Tree, who does not know the family but brought a truck anyway.

A UPS truck delivered 24 boxes of trucks, some from people living around the country who heard about the donations and ordered toys online.

“Maddox loved to play with construction trucks, and he loved to share them,” Borzilleri said.

Family members did not want to talk, she said.

Maddox bled to death when he fell into the African painted dogs exhibit and the animals mauled him just before noon on Sunday. Pittsburgh police said his mother, Elizabeth Derkosh, 33, lifted him onto a 4-foot fence on an observation deck from which he fell, bounced off a net meant to catch litter and landed in the exhibit. Zoo keepers eventually secured 10 of the dogs, but the last one would not leave the child's body and was aggressive with responding officers, who fatally shot it. Police are investigating the incident.

Employees at the funeral home placed the toys atop a table in the lobby with a sign that said “Trucks For Maddox,” but as donations continued to arrive, the trucks began to fill two viewing rooms, Borzilleri said.

“This was an awful thing,” said Keith Reeves, 42, of Pleasant Hills, another stranger who brought toys. “I have kids of my own. I don't know what I would do if anything happened to them.”

“Most people come in with more than one,” Borzilleri said. “It brings warmth to your heart to know that so many people care about this family.”

An employee at the Port Authority of Allegheny County took donations from coworkers at the Downtown office and dropped off about 25 toy trucks to the funeral home, spokeswoman Heather Pharo said.

“As a member of the community, he wanted to help out,” Pharo said. “We all thought it was something we wanted to do.”

An employee at Learning Express Toys along Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon said so many people came in for toy trucks that employees moved them next to the register. Other toy stores in the South Hills and Downtown also saw a bump in toy truck sales this week.

“It's been all day long,” said Jack Cohen, owner of S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes on Smithfield Street, Downtown. “A woman who worked with (Maddox's father) just left the store.”

Cohen said no particular model of truck is more popular than others. S.W. Randall carries construction, die-cast, excavation and delivery trucks, he said.

“A lot of people don't say what it's for, but we were selling so many at once it made me ask,” Cohen said. “I'm glad they're going toward a good thing.”

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in St. Bernard Church, Mt. Lebanon.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or

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