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Death in lion cage called accidental

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

FRESNO, Calif. — Family members of a 24-year-old intern killed by a lion at a California animal park said Friday they believe the facility followed safety protocols and the death was a tragic accident.

Investigators believe the 5-year-old male lion lifted the door of a partially closed feeding cage with its paw and killed Dianna Hanson as she cleaned a bigger enclosure area, Fresno County Coroner David Hadden has said.

Family members said they're relieved the young woman was killed instantly when the lion swiped or lunged at her.

“We're thankful to know she didn't suffer,” Hanson's brother, Paul R. Hanson, told The Associated Press.

Dianna Hanson died from a broken neck, according to a Fresno County coroner's autopsy report.

Other injuries occurred after her death, the report states.

Family members say they don't believe it was a mauling, but rather a lion's rough play that turned tragic.

“It sounds like it was an accident, maybe the latch had not been completely closed ... You know, house cats are smart, they can open doors,” Paul Hanson said. “It wasn't a vicious attack ... because you would expect severe lacerations and biting on the neck and that was not the case.”

Paul Hanson and his wife Tiffany Windle-Hanson, who was the victim's college roommate, don't believe any rules were broken at Cat Haven, the animal park run by the nonprofit group Project Survival.

“It was just a tragic accident,” Windle-Hanson said.

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