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Video: Owner of chimp that mauled woman dies

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    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But we're going to begin with a new twist in that brutal chimpanzee attack last year that left a Connecticut woman disfigured and fighting for her life. The owner of the chimp , Sandra Herold , died on Monday night. We'll get an exclusive reaction from chimp victim Charla Nash in a moment, but first and update from NBC 's Jeff Rossen . Jeff , good morning.

    JEFF ROSSEN reporting: Hi, Meredith. Good morning to you. Sandra Herold died all alone, vilified to the very end for raising that wild chimp . But she was fairly healthy, so it was a shock this week when she suddenly died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm. Her lawyer told us quote, "In the end, her heart, which had been broken so many times before, could take no more."

    ROSSEN: He was able to open doors by himself.

    Ms. SANDRA HEROLD: He could drive. He took off with the car a couple times.

    ROSSEN: Onto the regular streets?

    Ms. HEROLD: Yeah.

    ROSSEN: To her dying day, Sandra Herold loved her chimp . I spoke with her exclusively here on TODAY just after Travis attacked and maimed her friend, Charla Nash .

    Ms. HEROLD: It's a horrible thing, but I'm not a horrible person and he wasn't a horrible chimp . It was a freak thing.

    Ms. HEROLD: He's killing my friend!

    911 Operator: Who's killing your friend?

    Ms. HEROLD: My chimp , my chimpanzee!

    ROSSEN: Animal experts are saying that chimps shouldn't be pets, they're dangerous, they're animals, and this is what can happen.

    Ms. HEROLD: They're the closest things to human -- the closest thing to us. Their DNA , we can give them a blood transfusion, and they can give us one. How many -- how many people go crazy and kill other people? This is one incident that I don't know what happened.

    ROSSEN: Police shot Travis to death. That chimp , Sandra told me, was all she had left. Her husband had died five years earlier and her only daughter was killed in a car accident. Travis was it.

    Ms. HEROLD: He couldn't have been more my son than if I gave birth to him.

    ROSSEN: You save his drawings like you would save a child's drawings.

    Ms. HEROLD: That's right . I put them on the refrigerator for him and then when he wanted them he'd come get them. I used to buy everything for him, everything. I mean, he was filet mignon, lobster tails, Lindt chocolate.

    ROSSEN: He ate well.

    ROSSEN: After the attack, police considered criminal charges against Herold for missing key warning signs that Travis was out of control. In 2003 , he got loose and tied up traffic. No one was hurt, so investigators never charged her. Still, the family of Charla Nash has sued Herold for $50 million. Herold spent her final days defending herself.

    ROSSEN: After what you've been through with this, your friend is in the hospital fighting for her life, do you still think chimps should be pets?

    Ms. HEROLD: Would I have done it again? Yes. It was horrific what happened and I had to do what I had to do. I'll miss him for the rest of my life.

    ROSSEN: Her lawyer says Sandra was generous, that she simply loved animals and people equally. In a statement he told us quote, "In a world where too many people strive to just fit in, she marched to the beat of her own drum and was proud of it." Just a tragic, tragic end to this bizarre story. Meredith :

updated 5/25/2010 3:24:31 PM ET 2010-05-25T19:24:31

The Connecticut woman whose chimpanzee mauled and blinded her friend last year, leading to lawsuits and a national debate over the regulation of exotic pets, has died, her attorney said Tuesday.

Sandy Herold died Monday night of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, lawyer Robert Golger said. She was 72.

Herold's 200-pound chimpanzee, Travis, went berserk in February 2009 after Herold asked her friend, Charla Nash, to help lure it back into her house in Stamford. The animal ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids before the animal was shot and killed by police.

"Ms. Herold had suffered a series of heartbreaking losses over the last several years, beginning with the death of her only child, then her husband, then her beloved chimp Travis, as well as the tragic maiming of friend and employee Charla Nash," Golger said in a statement. "In the end, her heart, which had been broken so many times before, could take no more."

The chimpanzee's rampage forced Herold to stab her beloved pet with a butcher knife and pound him with a shovel.

"For me to do something like that — put a knife in him — was like putting one in myself," she said afterward. The chimp turned around, she said, as if to say, "'Mom, what did you do?'"

Travis had appeared in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola when he was younger, and at home he was treated like a member of the family. A family friend has said Herold fed the chimp steak, lobster, ice cream and Italian food.

Nash recently underwent a preliminary evaluation to determine whether she is a candidate for a face and hand transplant at a Harvard-affiliated hospital.

The mauling led Congress and state officials to consider strengthening laws against keeping exotic animals. A prosecutor said in December that Herold would not face criminal charges because there was no evidence she knowingly disregarded any risk the animal posed.

Nash's family sued Herold for $50 million and wants to sue the state for $150 million, saying officials failed to prevent the attack.

"Our sympathies go out to her family," said Bill Monaco, attorney for Nash's family.

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Golger and Monaco said they expected the lawsuit to continue.

"The stress of defending a multimillion-dollar lawsuit and all that it entailed also weighed heavy on Sandy," Golger said. "She hated living alone in a house where she faced constant reminders of the vibrant and happy life she once led with her family and friends."

Golger described Herold as generous and an animal lover.

"In a world where too many people strive to just fit in, she stood out as a true individual," Golger said. "She marched to the beat of her own drum and was proud of it."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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