But then came the real shock: The dog had attacked at least four other people and county officials knew it.
The family of the late Grover Cleveland Reasner Jr. recently settled a lawsuit after accusing Robeson County and one of its animal control officers of failing to protect the public from the animal. Reasner had filed his own lawsuit against the county, but the case was dismissed when he died of a heart attack in October 2003.
David McDonald, a Greensboro attorney, represented Reasner's estate. He said the county has agreed to a financial settlement, but he would not disclose the amount. Meredith Everhart, a Wilmington lawyer representing the county, confirmed that the lawsuit was settled, but also declined to say for how much.
“The parties have reached an agreement about a settlement, but I'm not going to discuss the numbers in the case,” Everhart said. “No admissions are made as to any of the allegations in the lawsuit.”
The suit claimed that Reasner went to Locklear's Garage on N.C. 72 in May 2000 to get his car repaired and the “dog dragged him under a car and ate his legs.”
The lawsuit said the dog ripped arteries from Reasner's legs. He was taken to Southeastern Regional Medical Center and transferred to Duke University Medical Center. Denise Locklear sought compensation in excess of $55,000 in medical bills and punitive damages.
The rottweiler, named Bear, belonged to the owner of the garage, Kenny Locklear. McDonald said Bear was a trained attack dog and known to be dangerous by employees of the garage, the animal control officer, Jerry Britt, and the Robeson County Health Department. But after four similar attacks that occurred at the garage, the county took no action, the lawsuit said. The dog died last year, according to its owner.
According to the lawsuit, Bear attacked John Locklear on Oct. 28, 1997, Debra Ormand on May 18, 1999, Bertha Oxendine on June 11, 1999, and Marcela Oxendine on Oct. 4, 1999.
“We believe that one of the purposes of the animal control office is to protect people from vicious animals and to remove those animals that threaten people,” McDonald said.
The county and Britt argued that it was Reasner who was negligent when he ignored signs on the property that warned of a guard dog. The county argued that Reasner entered an area that was posted as being off-limits to customers.
Britt investigated and determined that Reasner provoked the dog.
Grover Reasner filed a separate lawsuit against Kenny Locklear and his garage but failed to collect any money when Locklear declared bankruptcy.
The four other people who say they were attacked won judgments against Kenny Locklear in March 2001: Marcella Oxendine was awarded $50,000; Debra Ormand, $30,000; Bertha Oxendine, $30,000; and John Locklear, $19,000.
Reisner has never received his $100,000 judement, which is still pending, and would go to his daughter Denise Locklear.
The four people have never received their judments.
Not labeled ‘vicious'
Gerald Strickland, a supervisor at the Health Department, said, after an attack is reported, a county animal control officer investigates. If the dog is determined to be vicious, then a certified letter is sent to the dog's owner and the dog is ordered to be confined. If another incident occurs, the dog is almost certain to be euthanized, Strickland said.
Bear was never declared vicious.
County officials say the rules for guard dogs are different.
County Health Director Bill Smith said if Bear had been a household pet, he probably would not have lived to attack Reasner.
“The exception to the county ordinance applies when it's a watch dog used for security purposes, then it's there to protect it's property,” Smith said.
Rottweilers are often used as guard dogs because of their stocky build - they can weigh up to 110 pounds - and their protective native.
But McDonald said the number of incidents involving Bear should have alerted county officials that there was a problem. The lawsuit alleges that Britt may have accepted favors from Locklear's Garage in exchange for filing false reports.
County officials were unwilling to talk about specifics in the case. Britt still works for the Health Department.
County Attorney Hal Kinlaw declined to comment on the case. He said the county's insurance company would pay the settlement.
“The cost to the taxpayer is to have insurance,” Kinlaw said. “You pay a premium and you lock in your cost for peace of mind. We've had years without being sued.”
Amanda Martin, a lawyer with the North Carolina Press Association, said the settlement is public record and the county should disclose it.