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CEO of SeaWorld shareholder suggests trainer was to blame for her death

Brancheau training with killer whales in SeaWorld Orlando.
Brancheau training with killer whales in SeaWorld Orlando.
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Updated: 1/25 2:30 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. (WFTV) -- A top executive at SeaWorld's largest shareholder is accused of saying an experienced trainer killed by a whale should be blamed for her own death, Channel 9's Kenneth Craig has learned.

Trainer Dawn Brancheau died in 2010 after she was attacked at the park by an orca named Tilikum.

Comments made by Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman directly contradict statements by SeaWorld's own management and training staff while they were under oath.

The topic of conversation during the interview turned to the controversial documentary "Blackfish," which follows the Orca Tillikum, which is responsible for three deaths, including trainer Brancheau.

During Thursday's interview, Schwarzman suggested the former trainer was responsible for her own death.

"They had one safety lapse, interestingly, with a situation where the person involved violated all the safety rules that we had," said Schwarzman.

Blackstone is SeaWorld's largest shareholder and since that interview, they've issued statements that the Schwarzman mispoke.

In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited SeaWorld for not providing adequate protections for trainers and during those hearings, SeaWorld leaders admitted there no were precursors that would've warned Brancheau she was about to be attacked and that she made no mistakes.

All along, the former trainer's family has stood behind the theme park.  This week, the family wrote a letter stating they are not affiliated with "Blackfish" in any way, saying Brancheau would not have stayed at SeaWorld if she felt that the whales were not well cared for.

Earlier this week, new questions surrounded the lead investigator in the federal probe into Brancheau's death.

On Tuesday, OSHA officials said they are looking into the woman who led the agency's investigation after photos show Lara Padgett hanging out with the cast and filmmakers of the documentary.

In a statement to Channel 9, OSHA representatives said, "Allegations involving employee conduct are taken seriously and OSHA is investigating." 

The blog alleges Padgett wasn't just taking pictures but that she traveled around the country and attended movie premieres with the cast.

SeaWorld sent a statement to Eyewitness News on Tuesday evening that said, "We are aware of OSHA inspector Lara Padgett's affiliations with the cast of 'Blackfish.'  As we've said all along, the film is misleading, inaccurate and agenda-driven.  To build its anti-captivity narrative, it relies on the accounts of people who are animal activists. Ms. Padgett appears to be one of them."
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