DUNLAP, Calif. --The Fresno County coroner's office says a lion used its paw to lift a partially closed door and escape a smaller cage before attacking and killing a 24-year-old Washington State woman cleaning a larger enclosure.
Coroner David Hadden said Thursday the investigators told him that the 5-year-old African lion had been fed when he charged at Dianna Hanson, breaking her neck and killing her with an apparent swipe of its paw.
She died quickly of a broken neck. Hadden says Hanson was already dead when the 550-pound lion was tossing her body about its enclosure shortly after the Wednesday afternoon attack.
Hadden said Thursday that bite and claw marks found on Hanson's body were sustained after she died. Hadden said investigators believe the lion broke Hanson's neck with a paw swipe.
Fresno County sheriff's Lt. Bob Miller said deputies responding to an emergency call from Cat Haven found Hanson severely injured and had to shoot the animal to reach her.
The victim's father Paul Hanson, who is a Seattle-area attorney, said he drove his daughter to Cat Haven on Jan. 2 to start her new job. He said his daughter had always loved big cats and considered the internship "just a dream job."
Paul said his daughter gave him a little tour and even showed him the lion, Cous Cous. He said that Dianna told him she would not be allowed to go into the cage with the lion.
"She liked them [the big cats] so much, she always felt she could handle it and she wasn't afraid," Paul said.
Cous Cous is the cat that authorities said killed Dianna this week.
Hanson went to school at Western Washington University and she has a brother who lives in Hillsboro. (Dianna Hanson and her brother pictured in photo at right.)