Tired of waiting for a cab, Joseph Ring decided to walk home from Buddy's Place, a southside bar, after celebrating his 44th birthday on Dec. 13.
At 1 a.m., two pit bulls named X-man and Diamond charged Ring in the 1500 block of East 21st Street, jumping on his chest, knocking him back six feet onto his tailbone, biting him on the hands and left leg, ripping his pants and chewing a hole in his boot.
"They had me down in the road ... for 20 minutes or so," said Ring, who feared for his life. He screamed, fought the dogs with a pocket knife and crawled to the front door of the home of a stranger, who let Ring inside. The dogs continued to jump on the front door until police arrived. The dogs fled after a patrolman fired a shot at one of them.
Police identified the dogs' owner as Travis Lamar Casey, 25, 1207 E. 22nd St. Even though it is a crime to fail to restrain a dog that leaves its home and attacks someone, no charges were filed against Casey until after one of the dogs attacked another person nearly four months later.
At 8 p.m. on April 5, Chelsie Cline, 18, 1207 1/2 E. 22nd St., returned home after doing laundry at a relative's house.
One of Casey's pit bulls appeared out of nowhere when Cline reached her front porch.
"It starts charging me, growling," Cline recalled in an interview. "I hit it with my dog's choker chain after it nipped at me and got my leg. I tried to grab his collar and he grabbed my thumb and pulled me down on my hands and knees. I'm in flip-flops, shorts and a tank top, and he starts backing up with my thumb in his mouth like a game of tug-of-war.
"I hollered and screamed but nobody came to help me. I was inches from the dog's face. I knew if I didn't do something, I was going to die. He was shaking violently. I felt like an alligator had me in a death roll."
Cline's own dog was nipping at the pit bull's rear.
"I put both of my hands on his collar where his throat is and twisted his collar, choking it. I heard it cough. I knew if the other pit bull would get loose, I'd be dead. My house was locked, but my car was unlocked. So I dragged myself and the dog by its collar to my car. I got in the car in the pouring down rain, covered in mud and blood and leaves. Still choking the dog as tight as I could, I pushed the dog away with all of my strength and shut the door."
Weak, dizzy and shaking, Cline elevated her injured thumb to slow the bleeding and drove back to her relative's house, using her elbows to steer.
When she arrived, she had no strength left. "I laid my body on the horn and my grandmother and mother came running out," Cline said." I really thought I was going to die. I screamed as loud as I could."
The dog fled, but was found by police the next day at 5:45 a.m. When it lunged at a patrolman, he knocked it down with a shotgun blast. When it got back up and charged the officer again, he gave it another blast from the shotgun and killed it. The other dog was taken into custody by the city animal shelter and euthanized on April 20.
Who's In Charge?
When The Star Press recently asked authorities why charges weren't filed until after a second attack, they all passed the buck.
The newspaper first questioned why charges weren't filed in an article published Jan. 6 -- 24 days after Ring was mauled. The article quoted a patrolman as saying "we filed a case report," and the prosecutor's office was quoted as saying it hadn't received the paperwork.
Authorities did nothing for months.
Recently, Delaware County Prosecutor Mark McKinney said: "The initial case occurred Dec. 13. It was marked 'suspended' and was not received by our office. On April 13, it was assigned to Det. Melissa Pease for follow-up, along with the second case. She completed the necessary investigation, including obtaining photos, medical records and written statements. Both cases were submitted to this office shortly after May 4, and we filed them June 3. We can't file a case without paperwork."
Cline said charges were filed only after she pestered the city police detective division on the advice of a relative who works at city hall.
City police Capt. Mark Vollmar confirmed that he assigned Pease to the investigation after Cline and her mother approached him and complained that this was the second attack by dogs owned by Casey. Detectives don't normally investigate dog bites.
Vollmar said the animal shelter tried to contact Casey after the first attack to make sure the dogs had been immunized against rabies (they had not been) and to issue any citations for ordinance violations.
"The guy never answered the door," Vollmar said. "So the prosecutor didn't drop the ball, and the police didn't drop the ball. It was not our ball to drop."
Vollmar added: "The animal shelter has limited resources, so I assigned a detective to the cases, and the detective did a fantastic job. If the animal shelter is not giving dog-bite cases to the prosecutor, something needs to be done about that."
Robert Jessee, director of the animal shelter, said, "We turn our tickets and paperwork in to the city clerk's office, and from there, the clerk puts it where it needs to be."
The clerk supposedly turns the paperwork over to Dan Gibson, a city attorney, for ordinance violations, and to Thomas Hurley, the deputy prosecutor assigned to city court, for criminal cases.
Charges Finally Filed
It was Hurley who finally filed charges of dog bite liability resulting in injury, a class C misdemeanor carrying a maximum 60-day jail term, and harboring a non-immunized dog, a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum 180-day jail term, against Casey in connection with the second attack. On the same day, Hurley filed a charge of dog bite liability resulting in injury, a Class C misdemeanor, against Casey in connection with the first attack.
"I handle all cases turned over to me by my investigator," Hurley said. "How she gets it from the police, I don't know. How the police and the animal shelter communicate, I don't know."
Hurley also doesn't know why charges were not filed after the first attack until there was a second attack. "That would be a question for my investigator, who is no longer here," he said. "But the fact of the matter is both cases are now being prosecuted."
But the way the cases were handled by authorities makes one wonder whether other dog bites have gone unprosecuted in the past, and whether future dog bites will go unprosecuted.
"I don't know the answer," Hurley said. "But I have filed a number of harboring a non-immunized dog cases, which typically come as a result of dog attacks."
Casey did not return a phone message from The Star Press seeking his side of the story. But he gave a statement to Det. Pease in which he said that he had never known his dogs to get loose, and he denied being contacted about the first attack by the animal shelter or police. The animal shelter says Casey ignored notices left on his door. Later in his interview with the detective, Casey admitted that he talked to a police officer about Ring's attack after it happened, and that the animal shelter left a notice on his door.
One of the dogs was kept outdoors on a chain, the other in what Cline called a filthy little crate that is meant to transport, not house, dogs.
On April 8, Casey was cited with three ordinance violations: not complying with a notice of a dog bite investigation, no proof of rabies immunization and maintaining vicious dogs. The first two counts were dismissed. Casey admitted the other violation, for which he was fined $100 by City Court Judge Bill Bruns. Casey paid that and $114 in court costs.
Meanwhile, the attacks have left both victims with nightmares, medical bills and scars. Cline was treated and released from Ball Memorial Hospital for punctured hands and other injuries to her right arm and legs. Ring was treated on the scene by ambulance personnel, and later by a doctor, for punctured hands, a punctured left leg and a tailbone injury.
"I was mauled, "Ring said. "It was obvious they were fighting dogs. I think the owner was teaching them how to fight. That's what young guys are doing with pit bulls. The attack crunched my tailbone. I couldn't move for days."
And the attack isn't his only bad memory. When police showed up at the scene of the attack, they handcuffed Ring, who was still armed with his pocket knife and in shock, soaking wet from rainfall, his ponytail askew. Even after the Good Samaritan who let Ring inside his home told police that Ring was a crime victim, he remained handcuffed while police drove him to a nearby ambulance.
And Cline said: "It pisses me off. It shouldn't have happened to me."
Prosecutor McKinney responded: "How do you think that the second attack would have been prevented by filing the first case? Do you really believe that Casey would have been more careful with his dogs just because we filed a C misdemeanor against him?"
We'll never know.
Contact news reporter Seth Slabaugh at 213-5834.