Image: Ellen Vajda, right, comforts Sam Mazzola outside Mazzola's exotic animal sanctuary in Columbia Station, Ohio

CLEVELAND — An exotic-animal owner who made headlines last summer when one of his bears mauled a woman to death has died after apparently choking on a sex toy, authorities said.

Sam Mazzola, 49, was found dead in his Columbia Station home on Sunday, face down on a water bed. He was bound to the bed with handcuffs, chains and padlocks, Lorain County Chief Deputy Coroner Dr. Frank Miller told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Mazzola had a sex toy in his throat, which apparently obstructed his breathing, Miller said. He was also wearing a leather mask with the eyes and mouth zipped shut and a two-piece metal sphere covering his head, the coroner told The Morning Journal.

“He had done this by request according to the story we were given,” Miller told The Morning Journal. “There was an assistant, but that is under investigation.”

It appeared Mazzola died from an “accident during sexual role play,” Miller told the Plain Dealer.

An autopsy determined the preliminary cause of death was asphyxia due to airway obstruction by foreign body. Suicide and homicide have been ruled out. “The manner of death is pending further investigation and will be released when the case is finalized,” the coroner’s office said in a press release.

Sheriff’s detective Mike Lopez told The Morning Journal that a teenage co-worker found Mazzola’s body.

 

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