VIRGINIA -- There were moments when young Steve Fitchett wondered whether he would escape the German shepherd's jaws. It seemed like the harder he kicked, the deeper the dog's teeth sank into his flesh.
Three days after 8-year-old Daryl Sanders was found mauled to death behind his home on Jamestown Avenue, Steve recounted his battle with the same dog in a Newport News neighborhood.
One day in September 1998, Steve, then 10, and five friends were strolling across the playground at Washington Middle School. Steve and the others thought the dog, P.J., was chained under the neighbor's porch - until he started chasing them.
Steve ran to the monkey bars. The German shepherd caught his left leg before he could climb the first beam. "He was yanking at my leg," the boy said.
Steve needed 14 stitches after the attack. He has four scars on his left leg, one on his back and one on his left side. When he learned about Daryl's death from a dog attack, Steve sobbed.
Linda Fitchett blames the dog's owner, Annette Sanders
, for her son's injuries; a few months later she filed a civil claim in Newport News court against the woman, seeking $3,000.
The Fitchetts have not received a dime from their former neighbor, who was evicted from 1213 36th Street a few weeks after the attack.
"She signed a year's lease. I think I had to evict her about the third month for non-payment of rent," Ernest Carter, the landlord, said Monday. Carter's lease did not allow pets.
P.J. is no stranger at the SPCA shelter in Newport News, where the dog has been quarantined since two of Daryl's sisters found the boy's body after school Friday.
Animal control officers answered three complaints last year from residents in the 1100 block of 27th Street in Newport News, where Annette Sanders' mother lived. In each case, according to Peninsula SPCA director Eugene Falls, the officers found the German shepherd running loose.
An officer who handled the first complaint on Jan. 16, 1999, cited the owner for not having a city dog license and impounded the dog.
SPCA records showed that Annette Sanders on two occasions reclaimed the dog from the SPCA after 10 days, and paid a $75 pound fee. On the other occasion, Falls said, she picked up the dog after four days.
Falls described the German shepherd's demeanor as "unpredictable."
"I think he has a mental problem because of his weird temperament. When one person walks by his cage the dog is fine. The next person the dog tries to eat up," Falls said.
A 3-year-old German shepherd should weigh around 80 pounds, Falls said. "This one is about 20 below that."
He said the dog would be destroyed today and the remains delivered to the state medical examiner's office in Norfolk.
A medical examiner will compare Daryl's wounds with teeth impressions from the dog.
Hampton police have not released the results of an autopsy on Daryl, but a source close to the case said Monday the internal injuries "were serious enough to cause death."
One of the wounds punctured a lung.
"I checked with the people in Norfolk and Virginia Beach; this was the first known fatal dog attack in at least 30 years," said Falls, who has been director of the Peninsula SPCA for 27 years.
Nationally, the SPCA last year documented 12 fatal dog attacks out of 4 million cases.
"Probably 80 percent of the dog bites are not documented," Falls said.
(Daily Press - Feb 22, 2000