STOCKTON, California; DAYTON, Ohio––Brian Hrenko, 60, now awaiting sentencing for an involuntary homicide committed by a pit bull, became briefly a pit bull rescue celebrity on March 9, 1995 after jumping off the San Mateo Bridge in a futile attempt to save his pit bull Nitro from drowning.
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” artist Andy Warhol predicted in 1968.
Hrenko received his second 15 minutes of fame––or perhaps his third––on March 25, 2015, when a San Joaquin County court convicted him of the April 11, 2013 fatal mauling of house cleaner Claudia Gallardo, 38, by a pit bull named Russia.
Hrenko, who already had multiple prior convictions, faces up to four years and eight months in prison for Gallardo’s death.
Convictions in Dayton
The Hrenko conviction preceded by 19 days the convictions on April 14, 2015 in Dayton, Ohio of Andrew Nason, 30, and Julie Custer, 27, in connection with the February 7, 2014 fatal mauling of Klonda Richey, 57, by their two Cane Corsos.
Nason and Custer pleaded “no contest” to the charges against them. Dayton Municipal Court Judge Carl Henderson then found them guilty on two counts each of failure to control dogs.
Also on April 14, 2015, in Wentworth, North Carolina, Rockingham County District Attorney Craig Blitzer filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Daniel McCollum, 55, for the November 24, 2014 death of Jose Cruz Cazares Robles, 62, who was allegedly killed by a pack of 14 free-roaming blue heelers and hounds.
Authorities in Nye County, Nevada were meanwhile considering elevating the charges against Ricky Davidson, 40, who was initially booked for “keeping a vicious dog resulting in substantial bodily harm” after his three pit bulls jumped a fence and mauled Kenneth Lawrence Ford, 79, of Pahrump. Ford on April 14, 2015 died from his injuries.
Animal control failed to protect victim
Both the Gallardo death and the Richey death call into question the willingness and ability of law enforcement to intervene to prevent dog attacks before they occur, even when high-risk dogs are known to be kept in dangerous situations.
“Richey, who worked for Montgomery County Children Services and lived with about 20 cats, sought protection from the dogs and her neighbors for months before her death, according to records obtained by this newspaper from the county and courts,” reported Dayton Daily News staff writer Jessica Heffner.
“In total, 13 complaints were filed with the Animal Resource Center and another 46 calls were made to the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center related to Nason’s home between December 27, 2011, and Richey’s death,” Heffner continued. “However, the animals did not have a designation as nuisance, dangerous or vicious because they had no history of biting someone or killing another dog, Mark Kumpf, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, previously said.
Richey’s estate has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Montgomery County Commissioners, the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, and the center director, Montgomery County dog warden Mark Kumpf, along with several defendants yet to be named.
Cane Corso breeders often fancifully trace the dogs’ ancestry back to Roman war dogs, but the Cane Corso is actually a mix of mastiff and pit bull that first appeared in classified ads offering dogs for sale in 1995.
“Yet another signal”
Both the Hrenko conviction and the convictions of Nason and Custer are “yet another signal to pit bull owners that harboring these animals exposes them to years of prison if anyone is killed or seriously injured,” Los Angeles attorney Kenneth M. Phillips told ANIMALS 24-7.
Phillips, the senior specialist in representing dog attack victims worldwide, represents Gallardo’s children “in a wrongful death case against the property owner company and management company, in conjunction with the law firm Girardi Keese,” he said.
Hrenko had a long history of previous offenses, often involving pit bulls. Arrested in August 1986 for possessing a stolen revolver, Hrenko was released on bail despite an earlier conviction for felony possession of PCP.
Stopped for a minor traffic violation on May 15, 1987, Hrenko allegedly fought off and escaped from two San Jose police officers who suspected him of being under the influence of PCP.
San Jose police on May 28, 1987 traced Hrenko to a fortified cottage above the Guadalope Reservoir in the Santa Cruz mountains. Believing Hrenko was trying to reach an arsenal including an Uzi carbine, a Mac-10 machine pistol, two crossbows, two daggers and three pistols, the police detachment lobbed an explosive device into the cottage, and shot and wounded a pit bull who charged the officers as they approached.
“Hrenko was booked into Santa Clara County Jail for investigation of possession of PCP for sale and for being an ex-felon with firearms,” reported San Jose Mercury News staff writer Betty Barnacle. “The only casualty in the early morning raid was the dog, who was removed from the property by animal control officers.”
A 38-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman, both allegedly PCP customers, were also arrested at the scene. The woman’s 18-month-old daughter was taken into protective custody.
Continued Barnacle, “Police said the main gate to the compound as well as walls of the cottage were festooned with what appeared to be skulls of animals, possibly pit bulls. Police thought perhaps the animals died of wounds not inflicted by bullets because Hrenko’s living room decor included photographs of pit bulls fighting.”
Hrenko next made news on March 8, 1995 when his truck developed a flat tire on the San Mateo Bridge. His pit bull Nitro was with him.
“When Hrenko stopped to inspect the damage,” reported San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Benjamin Pimentel and Teresa Moore, “Nitro jumped out and over the railing of the bridge. Apparently without thinking of his own safety, Hrenko followed the dog, plunging 25 to 30 feet into cold water.”
The dog was not recovered, but the Coast Guard rescued Hrenko after his leap was reported to law enforcement as a suspected attempted suicide.
While the attempted pit bull rescue made broadcast news headlines, investigating officers eventually booked Hrenko on suspicion of possessing a loaded firearm in a vehicle, having a silencer, possessing drugs for sale, and resisting arrest.