The dog that fatally injured an 87-year-old man Wednesday in his Frederick County home had no prior contact with Animal Control and seemingly attacked unprovoked, officers said.
The animal, an 84-pound, 4-year-old brindle and white in color pit bull-type dog, was a fairly recent addition to Eugene Wesley Smith's home in the 8400 block of Stonehouse Road, said Sgt. David Luckenbaugh with Frederick County Animal Control.
The dog was a rescue animal adopted by the family in May and was apparently well-behaved until Wednesday's attack, Luckenbaugh said.
"We had no call history to that address, no complaints involving that dog and the dog didn't come in through our shelter," the sergeant said. "Our initial indications are that the attack was unprovoked, the victim didn't do any specific thing to cause that to happen."
Family and friends remembered Smith, nicknamed “Smitty,” as a hardworking truck driver who delivered milk to farms and creameries in Frederick for about 60 years.
“He's certainly a legend as far as the agriculture industry,” said Kimberly Young, a close friend and colleague who worked with Smith at Clouse Co., a local trucking company, for almost 30 years.
Smith drove for almost 60 years, his job taking him to places all over the country including Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio. He clocked at least 1½ million miles on the truck he drove, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.
“He didn't have hobbies, he just worked,” Young said, noting Smith rarely took vacation or sick days. “This is what he did; this is what he loved.”
Smith loved animals, keeping a stash of biscuits in his truck for the various cats and dogs that lived at the dairy farms and creameries on his route. Young recalled Smith talking fondly about the dog that ultimately killed him.
“Smitty told us how nice the dog was and how (the dog would) climb up in bed with him,” Young said. “He never once said he had any problems with the dog.”
Mary Ellen McCardell Mercer, who first met Smith in the early 1940s as a truck driver for the family milk hauling company Earl W.H. Mercer and Son Inc., said she was shocked by Smith's death.
“It's heartbreaking, and we'll all miss him,” she said.
Sheriff's office continues to investigate
Animal Control officers rushed to the home along with Frederick County sheriff's deputies immediately after Smith's son's fiancee, the only other person at home at the time, called 911 at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Deputy First Class Amanda Hatcher, a sheriff's office spokeswoman.
Frederick police officers also headed to the house, the first officer arriving almost simultaneously with sheriff's deputies, said Lt. Clark Pennington, a city police spokesman.
The dog was separated from Smith and sedated, but Smith suffered severe injuries to his head and upper body, Hatcher said. Emergency rescue personnel initially requested a Maryland State Police helicopter to fly Smith to a trauma center, but he was ultimately taken by ambulance to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he later died, Hatcher said.
"Our agency is handling the death investigation for Mr. Smith, but we are working closely with Animal Control, who are handling the investigation into the circumstances of the attack," Hatcher said Thursday. "An autopsy for Mr. Smith was scheduled to take place today, and there will not be any charges (filed)."
Luckenbaugh explained that, while he and his officers were moving forward trying to find out where exactly the dog came from and how it came to reside in Frederick, piecing together the animal's history will take time, as it was only recently introduced to Smith's family.
'This is the first one that I know of here in Frederick County'
According to county Animal Control statistics, dog bites are the most common among animal bite incidents. From 2009 to 2014, the department’s officers responded to 3,726 calls for animal bites, an average of two per day.
Luckenbaugh said they receive calls for dogs of all breeds and sizes, not just large dogs.
“Larger, more powerful breeds have the potential to inflict more severe injuries," he said.
Over the past five years, dog bites consistently made up more than 60 percent of animal bite calls in the county. In that time, officers have also responded to more than 1,000 cat bites, more than 100 wildlife bites and a handful of cow, horse, pig, poultry and goat bites.
Bite reports involving pet birds or reptiles are not documented because they do not carry or transmit rabies, according to Luckenbaugh.
Despite the high number of bite reports, Luckenbaugh, who has spent about 16 years as an Animal Control officer in Frederick County, does not recall any deaths directly attributed to dogs.
"I can't speak to 40, 50 or 60 years ago, but this is the first one that I know of," Luckenbaugh said. "Occasionally, we'll see a newspaper or a Web article of a fatality caused by a dog somewhere else in the U.S., but this is the first one that I know of here in Frederick County."
The dog, a neutered male, was surrendered by its owners to Animal Control officers and was euthanized while still sedated, Luckenbaugh said. While the dog was current on its rabies vaccination, a sample was sent to the Frederick County Health Department for testing as a precaution, the sergeant confirmed.
Calls to Smith's residence were not returned, and there was no answer at the door of Smith's home Thursday afternoon.
Staff writer Sylvia Carignan contributed to this report.
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