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Charges Unlikely in Fatal Dog Attack

April 9, 1987

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ The state may not be able to file charges in a fatal pit bull attack if investigators find the dogs were on the owners’ property when they jumped on a retired doctor, a prosecutor says.

Police still have not determined how and where Monday’s attack started. Dr. William G. Eckman, 67, of Kettering, was torn apart by the two pit bulls outside a house in a northside neighborhood as horrified witnesses tried to beat the dogs off.

Joetta Darmstadter, 32, who remained hospitalized in fair condition after also being bitten, is the key to finding out what happened, police Maj. Edward Long said Wednesday. The woman lived in the house, along with a man who owned at least one of the dogs, officials said.

Police want to determine whether Eckman was in the house at the time the attack began and how it started, he said.

″She was the only one there when it started. She said it started in the house and went to the front door,″ Long said.

Long said police interviewed Ms. Darmstadter briefly, and ″she said he (Eckman) was outside. When she got to the door she was fighting the dogs off and then he came to help her.″

Eckman found by ambulance crews near his car outside Ms. Darmstadter’s house. Witnesses said he ran there as the dogs chased him.

Neighbors tried to beat the dogs off with pipes and sticks and said Eckman tried to climb onto a passing car that had stopped, but the dogs pulled him down while he screamed for help.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Lee Falke said charges were unlikely against Ms. Darmstadter or Wilbur Rutledge, who police said also lived in the house, because ″the attack was done mostly on the (owner’s) property.″

Deputy prosecutor Dennis Langer said an ordinance defines a vicious dog as one that attacks someone other than the owner off the owner’s property.

″Obviously we have a problem in trying to deal with the definition of a vicious dog,′ he said. ″The vicious dog statute would be the basis on which an involuntary manslaughter charge would be pursued.″

Calls to Ms. Darmstadter’s hospital room were blocked, visitors were forbidden, and Ms. Darmstadter had declined interviews, Good Samaritan Hospital spokeswoman Char Jones said.

Jean Zimmers, director of the Montgomery County animal shelter where the dogs have been quarantined to check for rabies, said both dogs were registered to Rutledge last year. She said one of the dogs now is registered to a woman she would only identify as Rutledge’s housemate.

The shelter had no previous reports of the dogs biting anyone, she said.

Rutledge, who has been cited for not having a dog license, declined to comment Monday and could not be reached later.

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