Tuesday, January 31, 2012

California: Owner to stand trial in pit-bull attack on elderly Santa Rosa man

CALIFORNIA -- His wound is mostly healed but the memory is still fresh of the vicious pit bull attack that left Bill Siemsen of Santa Rosa with a deep gash on his leg and his own dog limping in pain.

A day before his 90th birthday in December, Siemsen was sitting in front of his Marlow Road house when a 70- to 80-pound pit bull bolted from a neighbor's yard and jumped his black lab, Luna.

Siemsen tried to smack the pit bull with his cane and it turned on him, clamping its jaws around his lower left leg.

It didn't let go until its owner ran up, punched it and yanked it away by its collar.

“It just grabbed my leg and shook it,” Siemsen said Monday, recalling the Dec. 12 attack. “Blood was spurting all over.”

Siemsen and his dog survived, but the pit bull with a history of violent behavior was put down.

And its owner, Armando Flores, 47, an ex-convict from Ventura County who had been visiting Siemsen's neighbors, could be sent back to prison if a jury determines he allowed the dog to escape.

On Monday, a Sonoma County judge ordered Flores to stand trial on a felony charge of allowing a vicious animal to run loose.

Judge Gary Medvigy agreed with prosecutors that Flores did not exercise enough care in handling “Blue,” who had been designated a dangerous animal just weeks before attacking Siemsen.

Medvigy also said Flores may have been drinking at the time.

“This is a dangerous breed,” Medvigy said in issuing his ruling. “Certainly someone handling a dangerous animal needs to have all his wits about him.”

The judge's finding sets the stage for a March 2 trial, in which Flores faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

The ruling came after a preliminary hearing that included testimony from an off-duty Santa Rosa police officer who witnessed the attack.

Stephen Bussell testified that he was driving past Siemsen's house Dec. 12 when he spotted a large, muscular dog [attacking] Siemsen's smaller black lab.

Bussell said he pulled into the driveway, got out and watched as the dogs moved closer to Siemsen, who was sitting in a chair.

When Siemsen tried to break up the fight by hitting the pit bull with his cane, the dog turned on him and began mauling his leg.

“I was getting ready to pull my off-duty weapon out and shoot the dog,” Bussell testified.

Just at that moment, Flores punched his dog, grabbed its collar and pulled it away.

Siemsen was left with a large gash on his leg.

The elderly man did not testify in person. Instead, his comments were recorded last week and submitted to the judge.

Flores was arrested after deputies arrived and determined his dog had a history of aggressive behavior and attacking other animals.

Justin Foster, a county animal control officer, testified the pit bull received the potentially dangerous animal designation Nov. 3 after complaints of other attacks on dogs.

Medvigy denied a request from Flores' lawyer, Karen Silver, to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor, who argued he was trying to control the dog when it broke free.

Prosecutor Robin Hammond said it was clear Flores was not engaging in ordinary care of a dog with an aggressive past. The breed, she argued, tends to be “dangerous and violent.”

“I think it's common knowledge,” Hammond said.

Meanwhile, Siemsen feels some comfort in the fact the dog that attacked him was euthanized. But as he sat in his favorite patio chair Monday, he could hear from the barking across the fence that his neighbor had already found a replacement.

They've got a new pit bull puppy,” said his caretaker, Anne Williams.

(Press Democrat - Jan 30, 2012)