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Pit bull owner in fatal Modesto mauling may avoid arrest

The owner of a pack of pit bulls that mauled a 59-year-old man to death and critically injured his mother may not face criminal charges in the attack, authorities said.

In order to arrest the owner, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department investigators would have to prove the owner was criminally negligent in a way that led to the fatal attack, Sheriff Adam Christianson told KCRA.

“So far we haven’t been able to do that,” Christianson told the station. “Certainly, the owners face certain civil liability, but criminally, without being able to prove negligence, we’re not going to be able to deliver a case to the district attorney that’s prosecutable.”

Authorties said the dogs’ owner is cooperating but did not publicly identify the owner.

Officials said the attack occurred about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at a home in the 800 block of Glenn Avenue in Modesto. The pit bulls escaped from a neighboring property and attacked Juan Fernandez, 59, of Modesto, and his 77-year-old mother, Maria Fernandez.

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The younger Fernandez was killed in the attack. Maria Fernandez remains in a medically induced coma at a hospital.

Juan Fernandez died from traumatic injuries he suffered after being attacked by the dogs, said Christianson.

“I have never seen this level of viciousness in any animal,” Christianson told The Times. “This is just shocking.”

A man who said he rented a room on the Fernandez’s property told KCRA that Juan Fernandez had been arguing with the neighbor for at least a month about the dogs, which he said had become increasingly aggressive.

“Even though you have vicious dogs and you put them in the backyard, you have to chain them up,” said the man, who identified himself to the station as Jerome.

The man told reporters that the dogs appeared to dig a hole underneath a chain link fence into the Fernandez’s property.

The first deputies to arrive found the dogs in the throes of the attack.

Officials said deputies found three pit bulls “viciously mauling” Fernandez in the backyard of his home. A fourth dog was circling him.

Fernandez was unconscious, unresponsive and unable to defend himself against the pit bulls, authorities said.

Fearing for the man’s safety, deputies shot and killed two of the dogs. The other two dogs ran into a nearby yard, prompting deputies to set up a perimeter surrounding them.

While searching Fernandez’s home, authorities said they found his mother, who had also been attacked by the dogs.

The mother and son were immediately taken to a hospital as deputies stayed behind to capture the remaining two pit bulls. At one point, the dogs charged at the deputies, prompting them to shoot and kill the animals.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.


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