It could have been a cat-astrophe.
A tiger escaped from a circus in Queens yesterday, taking a mile-long
romp through Forest Park and local streets, scattering screaming people
in his wake and causing two traffic accidents.
But after a half-hour of freedom, the 450-pound white Bengal named
Apollo was simply lured back into his cage with a juicy chunk of raw
"Me and my wife never ran so fast in all our lives," said Luis
Martinez, 45, a neighborhood resident who had a too-close encounter
with the big cat.
"We found an open door to a private house and ran in. I was in shock. It was incredible."
The tiger got loose from the New Cole Brothers Circus, which had set up
in the Forest Park bandshell parking lot on Woodhaven Blvd., when
workers tried to transfer him from a large cage to a smaller one on
wheels in the parking lot, police said.
A wheel chock moved and the small cage rolled far enough to create an
opening for Apollo, who was to be featured at the 1:30 p.m. performance
under the big top.
The cat hit the ground running, with panicked circus workers, including
trainer Cheryl Haddad, trailing behind as he trotted across the park's
"It's like, you know, you could see a big dog run by, but a live tiger
on the move! It was awesome!" said Mary Mason, 59, of Crown Heights,
one of more than 100 members of the Berean Baptist Church of Brooklyn
at their annual choir picnic in the park.
"A lady was sitting on the grass and the tiger trotted right past her,
just a few feet away," Mason said. "The trainer was running right
behind him with her wand, saying, 'Stop! Stop!' The tiger turned around
and looked at her as if to say, 'Are you serious?'"
"Even the clowns were running after him," said Deborah Faulk, 48,
another church member. "There was a guy with a clown nose and big shoes
running after him. I don't know what he would have done if he'd caught
Raynalda Millord, 36, was celebrating her daughter's first birthday
nearby. "There was even a guy with raw meat running behind the tiger,"
she said. "It was just crazy."
The majestic beast loped briefly along the Jackie Robinson Parkway,
triggering two smashups, one involving three cars and the other two, on
the westbound side. Five people were taken to Jamaica Hospital with
Martinez, a microbiologist who lives at Myrtle Ave. and 88th Lane, was
enjoying the afternoon with his wife, Nina, when they heard the
crashes. "We looked down from the overpass, and there was a guy running
and waving his hands, yelling for people to get out of the way,"
But then the tiger went up a slope toward the Martinezes. "We turned
around and there was a tiger coming after us. He was about 10 feet
away, and he was big, with white, black and gray stripes," Martinez
By this time, there were police helicopters overhead, and patrol cars
converging on the park. Cops and circus workers surrounded the big cat
on 88th Lane.
"He was a beautiful animal. But I think he was exhausted. He was tired of running," said witness Alice Douglas.
Circus President John Pugh said he loaded a tranquilizer gun himself, but the weapon proved unnecessary.
A trainer with some raw meat lured Apollo into a cage - and his great adventure in the concrete jungle was over.
"The tiger just walked in," Pugh said. "You could see it on his face:
'Thank God I'm home.'" Pugh said it was unlikely Apollo would have
attacked any passersby because he was raised by humans.
"But make no mistake," he added. "These tigers have all their claws and teeth. They're full tiger."
None of the tigers performed in yesterday afternoon's show, and Pugh
said they will stay in their cages until they calm down. The circus is
scheduled to end its weeklong run in the park with three shows today.
"We've never had this happen before," he said. "I don't want this to happen again."
Yesterday's tiger scare wasn't the first time wild animals have escaped from a traveling circus in Queens.
On July 10, 1995, two elephants ran amok in midperformance at the Clyde
Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus, also in Forest Park, touching off a
stampede in which 12 people were slightly injured.
The other tiger making news in the city was Ming, the 200-pound
Bengal-Siberian cat found in a Bronx public housing project apartment
Originally published on August 1, 2004