General Crime

Lawyer for South Beach Pizza Company Denies Owners Knew of or Ordered Anyone to Harm Opossum That Died

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An attorney for a Santa Cruz pizza restaurant today denied allegations by the eatery’s former chef that its owners knew about or ordered an employee to pour bleach on a opossum that died at a rescue shelter last Saturday. Brad Brereton, lawyer for Andrew and Sharon Bruno, owners of South Beach Pizza Company, said they have notified animal welfare authorities in the past to help wild opossums that get into the trash bins outside the restaurant and would not allow one to be harmed. “They had nothing to do with it,” Brereton said. “They had no knowledge.”

The Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter reported today that Alan Thomas Rockwood, 31, of Santa Cruz, had confessed Thursday to police that he spilled bleach on the young opossum last Saturday and left it in a trash can behind the pizzeria at 303 Beach St., according to Officer Todd Stosuy. The animal died soon after being taken to the Native Animal Rescue shelter in Santa Cruz and a necropsy by a veterinarian determined it died due to pneumonia, Stosuy said.

The opossum’s lungs have been sent for further microscopic examination to find evidence of bleach, Stosuy said. Rockwood was released from the county jail Thursday following his arrest last Saturday on suspicion of one count of animal cruelty, he said. Brereton was reacting to statements made by the pizzeria’s former chef Dany Pena, who said that on Saturday, two restaurant employees alerted him that the opossum, covered in bleach, was inside a trash container in the rear of the eatery.

Pena, who removed the animal and took it to the rescue shelter, said that he resigned his job after one of the co-owners told him not to report the incident to animal welfare authorities. He also stated that an employee told him that the mother of one of the co-owners caught the opossum that day and ordered Rockwood, the restaurant’s assistant manager, to put bleach on it.

But Brereton replied that after speaking to the Brunos and the mother, they all denied Pena’s accusations and none of them ordered anyone to put bleach on or dispose of the animal, nor did they instruct anyone not to report it. Pena, who had worked at the place for the past four years, said that seeing the animal inside the trash container “was the most heartbreaking image I’ve ever seen.”

He said he picked the still-alive animal up, left the business with it and a friend drove him and the opossum to the shelter in Santa Cruz, where it died about an hour later. “I was in tears when I was running out of (the restaurant),” he said. The restaurant has fired Rockwood, Brereton said.

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