MOUNT CARMEL - The Hawkins County Sheriff's Office knows the identity of the man whose pit bull attacked a woman at Laurel Run Park on April 22, but there's not much deputies can do about it.
That's because the man is a trucker working in a western state at the present time. The pit bull is with him, and there's really no way for the sheriff's office to compel the man to return.
"We're still waiting on him to return so we can talk to him," Sheriff Roger Christian said Sunday. "We're not looking at any criminal charge at this time. I'm not sure if any criminal offense has taken place. We've just got to interview him when he returns."
According to a HCSO report that was provided to the victim, Paula Kendrick, the HCSO has spoken to the man via telephone and confirmed that the dog had been vaccinated at the dog shelter it was rescued from in North Carolina. That information was provided to Kendrick, although not soon enough to prevent her from beginning a regime of rabies shots of her own after the attack.
"He stated that he was allowing the dog to swim in the river when it slipped its collar," the HCSO report states. "He further advised that the dog got away from him and began attacking the victim and her dog. He stated that he had advised Mrs. Kendrick that he would contact her and pay for her medical expenses."
Kendrick, 43, of Mount Carmel, told the Times-News Monday she has yet to hear from the man. She also expressed disappointment that the sheriff cannot compel the man to return, or that the sheriff's office cannot issue an arrest warrant for allowing the dog to run at large.
She said that regardless of whether there is a criminal charge in this case, if the man doesn't at least offer restitution for her medical expenses she will seek action in civil court. Of course, if he's not in the state it won't be easy to get him into court, she admitted.
Kendrick received nine stitches after the pit bull attacked her and her dog Sammy as they sat near the bank of the Holston River at the park.
Kendrick said her rabies shots alone cost more than $3,000 to date. Combined with the ambulance ride, emergency room visits for the stitches and rabies shots, and future shots, Kendrick estimates her overall medical expenses at between $10,000 and $15,000.
She still has more rabies shots to come. She said she's not relying on the reports that were provided to sheriff's deputies that the pit bull had been vaccinated.
"The sheriff's department has never even seen this dog, and they just have a piece of paper saying it was vaccinated," Kendrick said. "When you're talking about rabies, I'm not willing to take any chances."
Although it was initially believed that the man gave false identification to Kendrick and paramedics the day of the attack, police determined there were only a couple of discrepancies.
It was the Elizabethton address of the man's son's girlfriend's mother, which he uses as a mailing address while on the road driving a truck. The mistakes were in the ZIP code, which was the Mount Carmel ZIP code instead of Elizabethton, and the phone number, which was one digit off and came up as disconnected when deputies called.