Thursday, April 19, 2018
Public safety

Palm River girl bitten by pit bull mix goes home; Animal Services wants owner charged

TAMPA — Destiny is only 4 years old, but she understands what happened Monday.

A pit bull terrier mix bit her in the face.

Her family tried to keep her calm, but she was bloody and screaming.

They wouldn't let her see a mirror.

Tuesday morning, Destiny McKenzie remained in the intensive care unit with two gashes on her face.

And, according to Hillsborough County Animal Services, it all could have been avoided.

Tanya Okeke knew that her dog was dangerous, said investigator Pam Perry. Bear had already bitten two other dogs and the leg of neighbor Dorecus Aikens, 30, who needed four stitches after a December attack.

Animal Services thinks Okeke, 41, should be charged with two misdemeanors — one for culpable negligence and another under Florida Statute 767.13. According to that law, if an owner knows about a dog's "dangerous propensities" and is reckless about them, the owner can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor if the dog bites someone.

The first attack happened in July, when Bear bit another dog. Authorities gave Okeke a civil citation.

After the December bite, Okeke had to sign a paper that described the liabilities of owning a so-called dangerous dog, Perry said.

As of Tuesday evening, Okeke had not been charged. Animal Services is investigating and plans to consult with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. Okeke did not return a reporter's calls.

On Monday afternoon, Bear was tethered with a chain. As kids played outside, witnesses said, Destiny tumbled down some stairs and into the dog's reach. Bear attacked.

He did not let go until his owner struck him on the head with her fist.

Neighbors say Okeke had been good about warning people about her dog. But the investigator says that wasn't enough.

She should have put the dog inside, Perry said.

From the hospital Tuesday morning, Destiny's aunt Jessica Dorsey said Bear should have been euthanized before he had the chance to hurt a child. "It was no accident," said Dorsey, 23. "The dog attacked her."

Two big gashes along the left side of Destiny's face — one by the corner of her eye, the other by her mouth — have been stitched up, along with a bite on her left hand.

She was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon. She spent the rest of the day coloring and playing with her sisters, Rihanna, 5, and Raniah, 6. She touched her bandages occasionally.

The three girls live in the apartment at 8010 Tommy Court with their mother, aunt, uncle and grandmother. The kids know Okeke as the "candy lady" because she sold homemade frozen ice pops.

Though the family was angry at first, some of that has subsided, Dorsey said.

"We're not really so much angry as it hurts to see her like that," the aunt said. "She's just a baby."

Animal Services says it euthanized Bear on Tuesday afternoon. Destiny's family feels relieved that the dog will not return.

Aikens, the woman who was bitten on Dec. 31, is sad Bear had to be put down but said it was necessary.

What happened, according to both Aikens and Animal Services, is as follows:

Aikens' puppy, Mama, ran out of her apartment and started eating from Bear's food dish.

Bear grabbed Mama, a sheepdog mix, by the neck.

Aikens intervened. Bear bit her leg.

The puncture left a small scar.

She hasn't thought about the attack much, she said. Not until Monday.

Aikens was in her apartment that afternoon. She heard the girl's screams.

Times news researchers John Martin and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

 
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