Coroner: Exotic animal owner Sam Mazzola died from asphyxia because of an obstructed airway

COLUMBIA STATION, Ohio - Exotic animal owner Sam Mazzola died of asphyxia because of an obstructed airway, according to Lorain County Coroner Frank Miller.

Mazzola, 49, was found dead inside his home on Sunday. He was found in his bedroom, handcuffed and chained to the bed and wearing a mask.

A foreign object in his mouth obstructed his airway, Miller said.

The coroner's office wants to do further testing to determine if the death was accidental or suicide. At this point, homicide and natural causes have been ruled out, Miller said.

Following his death, family friend David Garnek said Monday that Mazzola's animals are being transported to facilities that are similar to the one he owned and operated. All of the animals are healthy, he said.

"The animals are all being transported to animal sanctuaries," Garnek said. "They'll be off the property within the next two or three days."

Garnek said that four tigers, four bears, and 20 wolves were still on the property. Smaller animals, raccoons, foxes, skunks and coyotes were shipped out Monday.

Mazzola had set up the arrangements prior to his death, in the case of an accident, Garnek said.

Mazzola was known for his exotic animal pets and hosting bear wrestling shows. In August 2010, a bear on Mazzola's property killed 24-year-old Brent Kandra, who was a caretaker on the property.

He was due in court on Aug. 22 for alleged probation violations, but his attorney said he doubts his death was related to legal or mental health issues that emerged after his bear fatally mauled Kandra.

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