AR-News: (NC - US) Deputy mauled by dogs eyes suit
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Thu Aug 7 12:59:33 EDT 2003
Deputy mauled by dogs eyes suit
By Susan Broili : The Herald-Sun
sbroili at heraldsun.com
Aug 6, 2003 : 6:23 pm ET
PITTSBORO -- The Chatham County sheriff's deputy severely mauled by five American bulldogs on July 31 has retained an attorney to investigate the possibility of a civil suit against the dogs' owners, Rebecca and Merwin Barber.
Siler City attorney Todd Roper said that the deputy, Melissa Young Buchanan, contacted him Monday about investigating a potential claim for her injuries.
Roper said he expects to complete the investigation within a month.
"She's hurt and she's got severe bites," said Roper, who added that Buchanan is not giving any media interviews because of a possible suit.
Chatham County Sheriff Richard Webster said Wednesday the injured deputy is "in good spirits," despite the fact she's taking heavy-duty antibiotics to treat infection.
The 24-year-old deputy spent about five hours in a hospital emergency room for treatment. She received 28 stitches for gashes on her left arm and right thigh.
Buchanan could return for light duty if she gets medical clearance at her next doctor appointment on Monday, Webster said.
The incident began about 8:10 a.m. when dispatchers sent the deputy to 591 Hills of the Haw Road, which is just off N.C. 64 near the Haw River east of Pittsboro. An alarm had gone off at the house, and she drove out to check to make sure no one was breaking into the house.
One of the owners, Rebecca Barber, told the sheriff's office that she had accidentally set off the alarm.
Maj. Gary Blankenship of the sheriff's office said that Barber had not called police or the alarm company to report that it was a false alarm.
When the deputy arrived at Barber's home, she spoke to two men who were working at a landscaping company, 4 Evergreen Landscaping, located on the same property. She asked if she was at the right place, and they told her she was, Webster said.
One of the workers called Barber, who told the worker to tell Buchanan not to go to the house because of the dogs. But the message was not relayed to the deputy, Capt. Roy Allen said.
The deputy also did not see the "Beware of Dogs" signs, Webster said.
One of the signs is on the gate, which was opened to the inside of the fence in a way that put the warning out of Buchanan's sight. The other sign was on a walking path near the road, the sheriff said.
As Buchanan approached the house on foot, the dogs came out from under the porch and attacked her.
The deputy used her flashlight and pepper spray on the dogs, but they kept coming, knocking her down three times and biting her.
Buchanan's superiors have commended her for her restraint in not using her gun.
"What got me was five dogs. You could keep your eye on one," Webster said.
The two workers, credited with saving the deputy's life, heard her yelling and came running. They distracted the dogs long enough for the deputy to get in her patrol car and call for help.
When about 12 deputies responded, two deputies wound up shooting and killing one of the dogs and wounding two others.
One of the deputies said that as a dog lunged at him, he could see blood in the dog's mouth, Blankenship said.
"That was a legitimate shoot. They had the right to defend themselves," Webster said. "We've actually had people coming by here supporting the fact that [the dogs] were dangerous."
Allen has said that "in speaking with the postal carrier, he said they actually come up to the car, and that is certainly on the other side of the fence."
A neighbor had filed three complaints about dogs on that property. After the initial complaint in 1999, authorities required the owners to confine the dogs, which they did in an invisible electric fence. The other two complaints, which came after that requirement, concerned the dogs being off the property, according to Chatham County Animal Control.
As part of the Chatham County Health Department's investigation into the mauling, director Dorothy Cilenti said she wanted to find out whether the dogs in the complaints were the same dogs that attacked the deputy.
Depending on the findings of the investigation, Cilenti said, the dogs would either be destroyed or declared dangerous.
Cilenti could not be reached for comment on Wednesday about whether her department had reached a decision.
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