Sunday, May 25, 1997

Pennsylvania: Woman Is Mauled In Pit Bull Attack. A Firefighter Who Heard Her Screams Shot One Of The Dogs

PENNSYLVANIA -- A 51-year-old woman was savagely mauled by two pit bulls on the streets of Norristown early yesterday and was saved only when a volunteer firefighter who lives nearby shot one of the dogs.

Mary Garrett of Pottstown was listed in serious condition yesterday at Allegheny University Hospitals/Hahnemann with numerous severe bites and gouges on her head, arms, legs, face and chest. Police said Garrett was attacked about 1:30 a.m. while she walked in the 600 block of Swede Street.

"This is one of the worst attacks we have ever had,'' said Norristown Police Chief Thomas Stone. "This woman had to be flown out of here by a helicopter. This was not like a dog nipping at the postman.''

Stone said Garrett spent her first 12 hours at Hahnemann in the intensive care unit.

Police said they had been unable to determine who owned the dogs.

Reached by telephone in her hospital room yesterday, Garrett said she was too weak to talk about the incident.

"I don't feel like talking,'' she said. "The damage is done. There is nothing I can do about it now.''

Norristown has experienced problems with Pit Bulls, Dobermans and Rottweilers for several years. Police say drug dealers use the dogs for protection, and they describe illegal dog fights as common. They also say dog attacks increase dramatically as the weather grows warmer.

The mauling prompted community leaders and business people in Norristown to renew their pleas for the borough to put an end to what they say is an alarming abundance of untethered, vicious dogs roaming the streets.

"It's mostly drug dealers who use these dogs for protection and for threat,'' said Dana Davis, the owner of B&H Groceries, around the corner from where the attack occurred. "Next to a gun, you got a pit bull. These young men need to stop walking through our streets with pit bulls unleashed and unlicensed.''

Ernest Webb, 49, a construction worker and volunteer Norristown firefighter, said he was watching TV early yesterday when he heard a woman scream.

"I looked out the window and saw a woman running up the street and saw two dogs running after her,'' Webb said. "The lady was hollering, 'Help me.' ''

Webb said he grabbed his licensed .380-caliber double-action pistol and raced outside. By the time he got across the street, he said, "the dogs had the woman on the ground. They were tearing her clothes off. I saw nothing but blood flying. It was a horrible sight to see.''

When one of the dogs let the woman loose and came after him, Webb said, "I plugged him with my .380. I knew I hit him. He jumped into the air and started yelping.''

Both dogs then fled.

"I ran over to try to help her,'' Webb said. "I told her, 'Don't move until the police get here.' ''

Danielle White, 21, said the commotion drew her from her home to her neighbor's cement steps, where she saw two pit bulls, one white and one brown, mauling Garrett. She said she rushed inside to call police and returned after Webb had shot one of the dogs.

After the attack, Garrett was sitting on her neighbor's porch, White said, her clothes ripped from her body. "She was bleeding everywhere.''

The white dog involved in the attack was captured by police about 4:30 a.m. after police received calls about a dog in distress.

Stone said the dog had what appeared to be a fresh graze wound on its leg. He said the dog was being held at an animal shelter. Authorities were deciding whether to test the animal for rabies.

The police chief said the other dog had not been located as of early yesterday evening. Nor had the owner or owners of the dogs. He said the white dog appeared to be well-cared for and was not malnourished.

"If we could establish an owner, we could probably file charges,'' Stone said. "But I think the chances of that are very slim.''

Stone said he had not determined why Garrett was attacked. He also said he was not certain why she was out on the street.

"We don't know if they were sicced on her, or what,'' Stone said. "She was not in a good condition to talk with.''

He credited Webb with saving Garrett's life.

"If it wasn't for him, this probably would have been an extremely tragic event,'' Stone said. "Ernest Webb probably saved her from fatal injuries.''

Paula Robinson, director of the Norristown Neighborhood Association, said the block on which the attack occurred is "one of the worst blocks in the town'' for drugs and other criminal activity.

"It has gotten to be extremely bad,'' she said. "Some of our members have had to move out of there because it just isn't safe anymore.''

Robinson said she would push the borough to do something about the dog problem.

"I am not against all dogs,'' she said. ''My niece was bit by a pit bull. Vicious dogs should not be roaming the streets freely.''

Stone said the borough has often discussed banning certain animals but never passed any legislation.

"It is difficult to do unless by ordinance you can specifically ban pit bulls, which is something I am certainly not opposed to,'' Stone said. "We've had a lot of problems and it surfaces more in the summertime. These dogs are not used in Norristown as house pets.''

Organized pit bull fights in which spectators gamble on the outcome are common in Norristown, Stone said.

"We see a lot of pit bull fights,'' he said. "We see people in the neighborhoods swing the dogs from tree limbs by their teeth to strengthen the jaws. They put thick wraps of chain around their necks just to strengthen the neck.''

( - May 24, 1997)