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Trainer was filming when elephant crushed him

BRONSON, Fla. -- The circus trainer crushed to death by an elephant was looking through the lens of a video camera at the time and probably did not see the 8,000-pound animal approaching from behind, deputies said Friday.

Trainer Axel Gautier, 51, of Venice, was fatally injured Wednesday at an elephant breeding farm near Williston, owned by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

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Levy County Sheriff Ted Glass said Gautier was videotaping other adult elephants at the time, and the camera's narrow field of vision apparently prevented him from seeing the 24-year-old female Asian elephant that attacked him.

The elephant approached Gautier from behind, pushed him down with her trunk and stepped on him, the sheriff's report said.

Gautier was treated at a Williston hospital for internal injuries to his chest, pelvis and abdomen and then flown to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where he died.

The elephant involved was not a performer and was used exclusively for breeding. Ringling spokesman Rodney Huey said there had been no previous reports of problems with the animal.

He said the elephants at the farm had been raised around humans and had previously been exposed to video cameras.

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'I can't imagine that would be anything that would provoke anything, ' Huey said.

He said Gautier was visiting the farm on the way to Ashville, N.C., where he was scheduled to perform in the circus Thursday night with his sons, Michael, 27, and Kevin, 23, who are also elephant trainers.

The show went on as scheduled, with one son in the left ring and one in the right. The center ring was left empty in tribute to Gautier.

Born in Breslau, Germany, which now is part of Poland, Gautier was descended from six generations of Swedish circus performers and joined The Greatest Show On Earth in 1958.

In addition to his sons, he is survived by his wife, Donna, of Venice, who used to work with him in the show; three sisters, a half- brother and a grandson.

Visitation is scheduled Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Farley Funeral Home Venice Chapel. Services will follow at 2 p.m. at the Grace United Methodist Church in Venice.

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