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Two arrested in third dog attack fatality in 17 months

Two people were arrested Friday in connection with the death of a Dayton woman who was fatally mauled by two mixed breed dogs — believed to be the third fatal dog attack in Montgomery County in 17 months.

In the latest attack, Dayton Police were called to 31 E. Bruce Ave. shortly after 8 a.m. Friday after receiving a report of a naked person on the sidewalk.

When officers arrived, they discovered the body of the woman whose coat had been torn off. They also found two male dogs who charged, prompting officers to shoot and kill the dogs. The Montgomery County Coroner’s office has identified her as Klonda S. Richey, 57. Richey’s autopsy is scheduled for this morning.

Richey worked for Montgomery County for 25 years. An employee with the Montgomery County Job & Family Services’ Administrative Services Division, she worked at the Haines Children’s Center on North Main St. Animal Control officers removed 20 cats which were well-cared for, from Richey’s home.

Complaints had been made about the dogs before. According to Mark Kumpf, director of Montgomery County’s Animal Resource Center, there were nine earlier complaints about the dogs being at large. The Dayton Daily News has requested the public records but they were not available on Friday.

Following the attack, police took Andrew Nason, 28, and Julie Custer, 25, into custody while executing a search warrant at 35 E. Bruce Ave., the home next door to the victim’s. Nason and Custer each are being held on a charge of reckless homicide, pending the filing of formal charges.

Kumpf described the dogs as Mixed-Mastiff breeds and believes each of the dogs,weighed up to 60 pounds. It is unclear what the mix of the dogs are but Kumpf said he believes they are part Cane Corsos.

A search of the Montgomery County dog license owners show there are three dogs who are licensed and live in the same block as the victim. Two of those dogs, described as mixed breed — one tan, one red, belong to Custer.

It is believed that the county has had three deaths related to dog attacks since 2001, according to Ken Betz, director of the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. Two of those attacks occurred in separate incidents in 2012 and involved the deaths of a 76-year-old woman mauled by a Cane Corso dog and a 93-year-old female mauled by a Boston terrier. The third death occurred in 2001 after a 3-day-old boy was mauled by a German shepherd.

The coroner’s office does not list “dog bite” as a cause of death in its records, Betz said.

The state does not keep track of dog bite-related fatalities, said Joanne Midla, public health veterinarian for the Ohio Department of Health. Nationally, the number of dog bite-related fatalities has ranged from 31 to 34 during the last five years, according to the National Canine Research Council.

Kumpf said any large breed dog has the potential to seriously injure or kill a person.

“Anybody who encounters a dog that they’re not familiar with should try and back away from the situation,” Kumpf said. “If they are not able to do so, one of the things that we recommend is that they make themselves a smaller target as possible.” ”

State law addresses dangerous dogs

The issue of dangerous dogs has been addressed throughout the years at the state and local level, frequently receiving attention following high-profile dog attacks.

In February 2012, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill removing pit bulls from the “vicious dog” designation under state law.

The bill rewrote the state’s vicious dog law, passed in 1987 and weakened by a 2004 Ohio Supreme Court ruling. Pit bulls are no longer the only dogs that can be classified as vicious.

“It basically levels the playing field for all breeds of dog,” Kumpf said at the time. “Other than the one dog, we’ve had our hands tied.”

The new state law also eliminated a requirement that dangerous dogs be leashed or tethered on the owner’s property.

The law allows animal control officers to designate any dog as “nuisance,” “dangerous” or “vicious,” regardless of breed. It applies to dogs that, without provocation, seriously injure or kill a person. Violators can be fined or face felony sanctions.

The two dogs in Friday’s incident did not have a designation, Kumpf said. The county’s control officers only have authority to enforce violations of the Ohio Revised Code, not the city of Dayton ordinances.

“As there was not a declaration under Ohio code, no other restrictions can be imposed,” Kumpf said in an email. “Our standard warnings remind owners that dogs must be properly confined or restrained when off their property.”

According to the city of Dayton’s code, an owner of a dangerous dog is not permitted to have the animal “unsecured or at large, or to go unmuzzled in a public place, street, or alley.” Additionally, the owner is prohibited from owning or caring for a vicious dog within the city.

John Danish, Dayton’s law director, said the state law and city code “operate together and are very similar.”

“All the facts have to come out,” Danish said. “It’s up to the police to develop the facts and whether to charge it. Given the seriousness of it, I presume they’re looking at serious charges.”

Local fatality sparked state law

The state’s 1987 vicious dog law was inspired by a fatal incident that unfolded on Marathon Avenue in Dayton on April 7, 1987.

Dr. William Guy Eckman, 67, a retired Kettering surgeon, went to the house at 256 Marathon Avenue to visit Joetta Darmstadter, 32, a woman who had a prostitution record. Darmstadter shared the house with Wilbur Rutledge, 34, and their two pit bulls, Bouncer and Buford, according to newspaper archives.

Eckman was brutally attacked by the two dogs, while frantic neighbors used sticks, brooms, metal pipes and even a car in an unsuccessful effort to distract the animals.

The coroner ruled Eckman’s death the accidental result of massive bleeding from dog bites to the legs and right arm. He also suffered a heart attack.

Darmstadter and Rutledge were charged with involuntary manslaughter. On Oct. 16 of that same year, after a nine-day trial, the jurors reached a not-guilty verdict in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

Darmstadter told police Eckman triggered the attack when he came to the house for sex, was turned down, then sneaked inside and opened the wrong bedroom door.

David Greer — one of the two lawyers who successfully defended Darmstadter and Rutledge — said Friday the incident would not have happened if the dogs were not disturbed.

“At that time, the public was starting to get excited about pit bulls and fighting dogs and all that sort of stuff,” Greer, a partner at Bieser, Greer & Landis, said. “Legislation is a reflection of popular will, and legislation tends to paint with a broader brush that what needs to be used.”

Then-Montgomery County Health Commissioner Morton Nelson — citing a city ordinance passed in 1919 — ordered the pit bulls destroyed.

John Bedell contributed to this report.

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