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'Rumor mill really got out of control'

LAKE CREEK — The founder of a tiger sanctuary in rural Jackson County fell out of the window of her second-story house Monday night, breaking bones and landing just a few feet from a tiger cage.

Penny Torres, 51, founder of Oregon Tiger Sanctuary off Highway 140, was airlifted from her property after midnight Tuesday and remains heavily sedated, recovering from several broken bones, according to Dennis Kefe, fire chief for Lake Creek Rural Fire District No. 8.

Torres was listed in stable condition at Providence Medford Medical Center Tuesday.

Kefe said Torres was never in any danger from the tigers. "They're actually pretty mellow," he said.

Initial reports, which proved incorrect, indicated Torres may have fallen into a cage, or that an animal was on the loose, Kefe said.

"The rumor mill really got out of control," he said.

A veterinarian was on call in case an animal needed attention, though Kefe said it turned out that wasn't necessary.

Kefe said Torres was in considerable pain and paramedics sedated the woman prior to airlifting her. Torres fell into an approximately 3-foot-wide area between the house and the perimeter of a cage. The emergency call came in at 10:51 p.m.

The circumstances leading to Torres' fall out of the window are still unclear, Kefe said.

The helicopter had difficulty finding a safe place to land, riling up the big cats and primates.

"They were going crazy when the helicopter landed," Kefe said.

Andrew Rubin, the chief executive officer of the nonprofit tiger sanctuary, said Torres was never in any danger from the wild animals.

The sanctuary, with 12 full-time volunteers, was founded in 1991 by Torres and is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of exotic and endangered species that have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

The sanctuary has about 20 big cats, including tigers, lions, black leopards and cougars, as well as 10 primates, including a spider monkey. Situated 25 miles east of White City, the sanctuary is in a mountainous area midway between Lake Creek and Lake of the Woods.

Rubin said Torres was standing next to a window when something slipped out of her hand. When she tried to catch it, she lost her balance and fell out of the window, he said.

Rubin said he didn't have all the details about Torres' fall because she had been sedated since the accident.

"We're still trying to ascertain the facts," he said.

He said she broke her leg and was scheduled to undergo an operation Tuesday evening.

Rubin said the sanctuary has a strong set of protocols to safeguard any animal from escaping as well as to avoid injury to anyone.

"We've never had any incidents in the 20-some odd years we've been up here," Rubin said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.