It was sad to learn that former NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series driver ST James Davis is currently in a hospital, reported to be in critical condition, after being attacked by two chimpanzees who escaped from their cages at a wild life sanctuary near Bakersfield. His wife, and crew chief, LaDonna Davis, was treated for animal bites.
According to wire reports, from the Associated Press, the Davis' were visiting the Animal Haven Ranch, a sanctuary for retired zoo animals, on March 3d in Havilah, California approximately 20 miles south of Bakersfield. They were specifically there to visit their pet chimpanzee Mogambo, but referred to as Moe, and throw him a birthday party. Moe had been placed at the animal sanctuary in 1999 after he bit off the tip of a woman's finger who was visiting the Davis home in West Covina.
Somewhere around 1130am that morning, four chimpanzees escaped from their cages. Two of them turned on the Davis' and attacked them. The vicious primates were killed at the scene by zoo officials. The remaining two chimps at large were captured, approximately one hour later, and returned to their cages. It's still unknown exactly how the animals escaped from their confined area.
ST James Davis was airlifted to the Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield for treatment where he was listed in critical condition. According to a prepared statement from a hospital spokesman, released via the Associated Press, Davis sustained severe facial injuries from the attack and will need extensive surgery to reattach his nose. It was also reported that his testicles and a foot were also severed during the attack. LaDonna Davis was treated for the animal bites she sustained, while attempting to fend off the attack, and released.
To fully understand the powerful emotion of this tradegy, you have to be aware of how Moe became a part of the Davis family to begin with. He was adopted by the Davis' approximately 35 years ago and quickly became the child the couple never had. Moe's adoption literally saved his life. At the time ST James was in Africa participating in a boat race. Also at that time government officials there were concerned about the rising numbers of the ape population and initiated a reduction program. As the adult apes were killed, their babies were left behind to die. Their extremities were cut off and used to manufacture afrodisiacs. Their hands and feet were cut off to be sold while the rest of their bodies were left lying on the ground.
Moe's mother had been killed when he was only a few days old. St James happened to run into a man on a street corner who had tiny Moe inside of his pocket. ST James immeadiately fell in love with the tiny monkey and could not bear the thought that he had been sentenced to death. He decided to adopt Moe but, as it turned out, the red tape and paperwork was easier said than done and ST James had to spend an additional three months in Africa before he could bring Moe to his new home.
It was immeadiately apparent that Moe was smarter than the average monkey and, with training from his new parents, soon developed quite a few talents. Moe soon became a source of income for the Davis family and did work in movies and television and even appeared on the old game show "Bowling For Dollars". ST James noted that Moe loves to bowl and said "he can't place his fingers in the holes of the bowling ball so he uses to palm of his hand to roll the ball down the alley and then dances up and down when the pill fall over."
Moe also made personal appearances at many functions, such as birthday parties, and even signed autographs for his growing number of fans. It was LaDonna who taught him how to sign his name. All the letters in the name Mogambo were a little too much to learn, so she taught him how to write M-O-E and that became the monkey's life long nick name.
Moe also developed a talent for driving that came from a go kart that ST James made for him. Moe wasn't exactly good at stopping the cart and turning off the engine. Whenever he was through driving he would stand up on the seat and jump off leaving the kart to wildly around the back yard until it ran into something and stopped itself.
It was that ability to drive that first brought Moe to the attention of the Los Angeles based media. Every weekday ST James would drive Moe home from the studio he was working at and stop at a local gas station near his home. He would put some gas in the two seat roadster he was driving at the time and then let Moe drive the remaining few blocks home.
It didn't take long for the word to get out about the car driving monkey and every afternoon spectators would gather on the sidewalk, between the gas station and the Davis home, to wave at Moe as he drove by. While it was natural that a car driving monkey would attract a lot of attention, it was also natural that someone was going to have a problem with it.
When that someone compained to the West Covina Police it was, needless to say, greatly embellished and local authorities thought that some crazed animal the size of King Kong was terrorizing the Davis home. With local police, a swat unit, animal control and the Los Angeles media at the scene, the front of the house looked like it was under siege that day. Moe just took everything in his stride and went to his cage for a nap. ST James explained to authorities that everything was fine and Moe took a nap everyday at the same time and they would have to come back tomorrow.
The local court system in West Covina was in a quandry over this case. It was clear that something was going to have be done but no one knew exactly what to do. Adding to the situation was the fact that the media had completely fallen in love with Moe and was giving the court hearing massive coverage because, after all, how often does a monkey get busted for driving without a liscense? In the final resouloution the judge, who also was captivated by Moe, issued the monkey an honorary California driver's liscense and ST James agreed not to let him drive on city streets and state highways anymore.
The happy times in the Davis household came to a crashing halt late in 1999 when judicial officials from the City of West Covina alledged that Moe had inflicted injury to people. That story was carried by KTTV, a Los Angeles based Fox Network affiliate, who back then quoted West Covina City Attorney Martin Meyer as saying "this is not a situation where we have a cutle little monkey, this is a very dangerous animal."
The news report also stated that a news group caught Moe on video tape when the chimp got out of the house and out of control. The report alledged that Moe charged an animal control officer and also alledgely bit the hand of a police officer. The situation was compounded later in 1999 when Moe bit off a woman's fingertip. The woman put her hand inside of his cage despite the fact that the Davis' warned her not to do it. The woman had long red fingernails at the time. It was pointed out that Moe's favorite treat was red licorice and when he saw the red fingernails he mistook it for a treat.
In the legal aftermath, from 1999, City Attorney Meyer was quoted as saying "I believe they love the monkey and I, quite candidly, think that's one of the problems. I think that love has blinded them to the fact that the animal has become dangerous."
There were many others who did not agree with the city's actions. Chief among them was famed attorney Gloria Allred who represented the Davis family in 1999. Allred, who has garnered national fame for championing cause like this, said she believed the City of West Covina was arrogant for removing Moe from his home and further stated "this is not about a chimpanzee, this is about the break up of a family." The sentiment was reinforced by a petition, signed by over 8,000, who demanded that the court allow Moe to be returned home.
Unfortunately for the Davis' justice prevailed and part of the resoloution, to satisfy the criminal complaint from the City of West Covina, was an agreement that Moe would be sent to the the Animal Haven Ranch in Havilah. The ensuing civil action, brought by the two injured parties, was reported to be settled.
But the settlement came at a huge cost. The legal bills alone were astronomical and that brought an end to Davis Racing. At a point in life when ST James had already decided to retire from active driving, the plan was to put a young, up and coming, driver behind the wheel of the Davis Racing Pontiac and develop him in the NASCAR West Series. Those plans were put on hold and likely will not be addressed again.
The racing careers of ST James and LaDonna are as colorful as their adventures with Moe. The racing career of ST James Davis dates back to more than five decades. In fact, he would probably would be hard pressed to remember a time when he wasn't racing something back in those days. Over the years he raced bycycles, motorcycles, cars, boats and planes. He always had a love for the sound of a motor, a curiousity for what makes an engine tick and the fire that makes someone want to out perform a competitor.
His car racing exploits alone covered every racing division you could name: late models, street stocks, figure eights, demolition derbies and modifieds at the local level. On a more prominent note he spent five years running in the NASCAR Grand National Division, now known as the Nextel Cup, as well as the USAC Stock Car Series. He spent the last 20 years of career with the NASCAR Winston West Series and built his cars out of a shop located behind his West Covina home.
While the team struggled with sponsorship issues, that enduring spirit in both them that made them want to go racing never faltered. ST James enjoyed the prestige of finishing ninth in the Winston West points standings in 1997. There were many times in the late ninities when ST James seriously thought about retiring as an activie driver. It was LaDonna, his crew chief, engine builder and wife, that kept him going. She has the distinction of being one of the very few female crew chiefs and engine builders in organized racing.
During their tenure with the NASCAR Grand National Series, there were times when LaDonna actually had to disguise herself as a man. Back in those days the only women that were allowed in a major league NASCAR pit area were the beauty queens who made appearances in victory lane. In most cases these women were sequestered in an office building until the race was over.
Despite the fact that LaDonna was the registered car owner and crew chief of the car her husband drove, there were no exceptions to the rule. LaDonna had to stuff here lovley blonde hair under a cap, don a pair of oversized mechanic's overalls and masquerade as a man to get into the pits to do her engine work on the car.
The Davis' have some of the best racing stories that you would ever want to listen to and that's just one of the many qualities that has endeared them to so many people over the years. Add the presence of Moe to their personal stories and you've got a very special racing family.
It's extremely sad that ST James is now hospitalized because of an attack from the hand of the very same animal species that he spent so many years loving and protecting. Over a decade ago LaDonna was quoted as saying "I believe in God, karma and fair treatment." They're going to need plenty of all three of those elements before they see a restoration to family, a happy home life and perhaps even a return to motorsports.
My thoughs and prayers are with ST James and LaDonna Davis during this most difficult ordeal.