Image credits: State Police
A 45-year-old Danville resident said she had the “worst day of her life” when she encountered lab monkeys while trying to help at the scene of a crash in Montour County on Friday.
Truck crash Monkeys:
Now Michele Fallon said she is taking precautions for her health after saying one of the monkeys, who she said she later discovered was being sent to a lab, hissed at her on Route 54 near Interstate 80 Friday afternoon.
State police said a trailer collided with a dump truck causing crates of monkeys to be dumped along the roadway. Three of the reported 100 animals escaped, according to troopers. All three were eventually captured and euthanized, according to authorities.
Fallon spoke with The Daily Item Tuesday evening and said she wanted to tell her story so people understand she is not sick but was only taking precautions after speaking with authorities, the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“I want people to know I am not sick, I found out I was at a birthday party Friday night and people there had COVID-19,” she said. “I was exposed to the monkeys and exposed to people with COVID. It was the worst day of my life.”
A doctor at Geisinger Medical Center, in Danville, told Fallon he was unsure what the monkeys had, and to be safe he treated her with rabies shots and a dose of antibiotics.
Fallon said the day began when she was coming back to Danville from Bloomsburg and was traveling on I-80 west toward the Danville exit.
“I was behind the truck that was in the accident and I saw when the truck veered off the road and saw the incident,” she said.
Fallon said she thought the crates fell off the dump truck that was involved in the accident and she pulled off the side of the road to help the driver.
“When I approached the truck, I saw the driver who looked stunned from the accident and I saw another person inside that looked like he was laying on a bed,” she said.
That’s when Fallon explained to the driver that medical personnel was on the way.
“He asked how his trailer was,” she said. “I walked to look and I saw what looked like crates with a green cloth over them.”
Fallon said another person began to walk up and said there were cats inside and that one had run away.
“So I was like ‘well let me make sure these cats are OK’ so I approached a crate and saw the fur and heard a grunting sound,” she said. “I was confused about what kind of cats they were until I picked up the green cloth.”
Fallon said at that point she was stunned.
“When I picked up the cloth a monkey popped up and hissed at me,” she said. “I said, ‘oh, my God it’s a monkey’ and I backed away and the driver told me to not go near them because they were not quarantined and he had to get back to Missouri.”
Fallon said medical responders began to arrive as well as the media.
“The driver started to yell at the media and told the trooper he didn’t want them taking pictures because he didn’t want this incident to get out,” she said. “The trooper said the media could take pictures and he couldn’t stop them.”
Call from CDC
Fallon said she didn’t think anything of it until she got a call from the CDC.
“I explained what happened and they said I was at very low risk of anything but I went to get checked out anyway because I started to not feel well,” she said.
Fallon went to the hospital and the doctor said he wanted to take precautions and gave her rabies shots and antibiotics.
Fallon said she attended a party shortly after the accident and she discovered that she had also been exposed to COVID-19, which could be the cause of her symptoms.
She has since been tested, she said.
“I want people to know I am not sick regardless of what they are reading that has been put out there in the media,” she said. “I only spoke to a few media outlets but I have been talking to PETA.”
Geisinger Medical Center spokesperson Joe Stender said Tuesday the hospital is following protocols.
“We are following Pennsylvania Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for treating anyone potentially exposed to the non-human primates involved in the recent traffic incident on I-80,” Stender said. “Due to privacy regulations, we are unable to discuss any particular individuals involved.”
On way to lab
State troopers said the truck had been on its way to a lab with the cynomolgus monkeys, which are often used in medical studies. A 2015 paper posted on the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information referred to them as the most widely used primate in preclinical toxicology studies.
The CDC, the Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Game Commission all provided help during the search, troopers said.
The shipment of monkeys was en route to a CDC-approved quarantine facility after arriving Friday morning at New York’s Kennedy Airport from Mauritius, a country in East Africa, the agency said.
One of the missing monkeys was unaccounted for most of the day on Saturday, but state police and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Saturday night all of the monkeys were located and recovered.
“All 100 of the cynomolgus macaques are accounted for; three are deceased,” said Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC, in an email over the weekend. “A public health risk assessment was conducted by the CDC, Pennsylvania State Police, and Pennsylvania Department of Health and three of the monkeys were humanely euthanized according to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.”
CDC officials did not return multiple requests for comment Tuesday.
Police did not release information regarding how the final monkey was found.
According to police, Cody M. Brooks, of Keystone Heights, Florida, was driving a Dodge Ram pickup with a trailer filled with the animals on Route 54 East near the intersection with Interstate 80 just after 3 p.m. Friday. Brooks went to turn left onto the ramp for Interstate 80 West when a Peterbilt truck driven by Tyler G. Deeghan, of Canton, struck Brooks’ vehicle.
The collision caused a trailer being pulled by Brooks to break loose, spilling the crates full of monkeys in cages into the road.
A spokesperson for The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has opened an investigation into the incident. Calls to the department were unreturned as of Tuesday evening.
PETA officials also called upon Gov. Tom Wolf to look into the incident.