HAWTHORNE, Fla. - Two pit bulls that mauled a 74-year-old man who was gardening in his own yard, ripping his right arm off and partially severing his left arm, ultimately leading to his death, were no strangers to attacks, according to police reports.
Roy McSweeney died Wednesday after spending five days on life support at Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
Putnam County sheriff's deputies said two pit bulls got out of McSweeney's neighbor's home in the 200 block of Old Hawthorne Road and attacked him. The dogs were euthanized Friday immediately after the attack.
According to police reports from the Putnam County Sheriff's Office, the same dogs at 259 Old Hawthorne Road were involved in two previous attacks, one in January 2010, the other just last month.
Neighbors said everyone knew the dogs were dangerous and something should have been done a long time ago before someone had to lose a life because of them.
"Far as I know, he was outside working in the yard as he always does, which is nothing uncommon," neighbor Angela Taylor said of what McSweeney was doing before the attack.
Witnesses said that's when his next-door neighbor's two pit bulls ran up and mauled him.
"It's one thing if a kid's playing with a dog and tormenting him and then gets bit. That's not strict liability, so to speak," attorney Don Maciejewski, who has handled dog attack cases, said in a phone interview. "But in this case, where this gentleman who's a 74-year-old guy is paying no attention to the dogs, did nothing to provoke the animal, got bit, it's liability."
Deanna Blitch owned the dogs. She said she was caring for them on behalf of her ex-boyfriend, Henery Scurry.
According to police reports, the dogs attacked a 23-year-old man last month as he entered the back door of Blitch's home to visit her son. He had to get more than 40 stitches and is still having trouble using his hand, according to his family.
Blitch, however, said the man wasn't invited and shouldn't have been trespassing.
In January 2010, another man was bitten by the dogs, according to police reports. The man said he was caring for the property next door when the animals "came through the fence and knocked him down and attacked him," biting him all over his body, according to the reports. Now, that man is suing Blitch and her ex-boyfriend for his injuries.
In both cases, the dogs were quarantined but were eventually given back to their owner. Charges were never filed, and the dogs were never declared dangerous.
Neighbors said there have been other incidents, too, that were not reported to police.
Lawyers who have dealt with similar cases before said the dogs should have been dealt with.
"Something should have been done a long time ago," Maciejewski said. "You don't let an animal bite someone three or four times unprovoked and not do something to either categorize the animal as vicious and then have the animal put down, perhaps."
McSweeney's family, who has remained quiet since the attack, has hired attorney Jennifer Biewend to represent them. In an emailed statement, Biewend said, "Our investigation is under way, and we will get to the bottom of how and why this happened. We will find out who is responsible for this tragedy."
Blitch said in a phone interview Thursday that she's extremely sorry about what happened to McSweeney and is grieving him just like everyone else in the neighborhood.
Blitch's attorney, Robert Rush, did not return phone calls for comment.
The Putnam County Sheriff's Office and the state attorney's office are still investigating and deciding whether to charge Blitch in the fatal attack. If they do, she could face a charge of negligent manslaughter.
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