Severely injured Duane Eddie Vanlanham won a medal & a lawsuit, but no payout
SAGINAW, Michigan––Duane Eddie Vanlanham, a 2009 recipient of the Carnegie Medal for Civilian Valor for fighting off three pit bulls to rescue neighbor Bridgetta Hadley, at huge cost to himself, died on June 14, 2019 as quietly as he had always lived, in the neighborhood where he spent most of his 59 years, on the block where Saginaw and Buena Vista Township meet.
Several Carnegie Medals for Civilian Heroism have been presented each year since 1904 by the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, one of several philanthropic funds endowed by Scots-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The founder of the United States Steel Corporation, Carnegie is best known for funding the construction of libraries.
“Wayne” to family & friends
Vanlanham, born on May 31, 1960, appears to have been named, perhaps inadvertently, after rock-and-roll guitarist Dwayne Eddy, then 22 and at the peak of his career after recently recording the Top 10 hits Rebel Rouser, Because They’re Young, and Peter Gunn.
Vanlanham’s son, Duane Eddie Banks-Vanlanham, a youth baseball coach, now 35, active in his church and known for his positive, encouraging outlook, kept the name “Duane” in the family.
Duane Eddie Vanlanham the Carnegie Medal winner, however, appears to have been “Wayne” to family and friends.
“Just went to take the garbage out”
On March 5, 2009, Wayne Vanlanham told Saginaw News reporters Paul Wyche and Brian Brunner, “I just went to take the garbage out and the dogs met me at the door.”
Wayne Vanlanham, identified by Wyche and Brunner as “a part-time auto supplier employee who was out of work on disability with a bad back,” sharing his home with his mother Bobbie G. Vanlanham, recognized that the three pit bulls might be dangerous.
All females, the three pit bulls had often run at large in recent days, accosting others. Hadley, then 41, had thrown rocks at the pit bulls to keep them away from her, she later testified in court.
Said Wayne Vanlanham, “I pushed them off of the door and they ran.”
Called animal control before the attack
“Vanlanham quickly was able to get back in his house,” summarized Saginaw News reporter Andy Hoag, who covered the ensuing criminal case. “He called emergency personnel, who referred him to the Saginaw County Animal Care Center. Minutes after calling animal control, he heard Hadley ‘hollering for help,’ he testified, yelling, ‘Somebody please help me.’”
“About 10 minutes later, I heard screams,” confirmed Vanlanham to Wyche and Brunner.
Hadley, a counsellor at Wolverine Human Services, was on her way to work. She saw one of the pit bulls on her lawn and the other two on Vanlanham’s lawn, two doors away, but thought she could slip past them to her car.
Instead they attacked immediately, biting her arms and legs.
“I told my mother to call 911,” Wayne Vanlanham told the court, and ran outside to help Hadley, whom he had known her entire life.
“I grabbed a stick, but as soon as I hit one of them with it, the thing broke,” testified Wayne Vanlanham, who did not know the technique of luring dogs away from a victim by getting them to bite a stick instead of the person or animal under attack.
“Somebody drove up and opened the door for her to get in,” Wayne Vanlanham continued. He helped Hadley into the car.
“Once she got in the car, the next thing I knew they were on me, ripping off my shoes, my socks and my pants. I don’t know how they did that,” Wayne Vanlanham said. “I tried to get on the hood, but they grabbed me by the legs and I slid off the hood.”
“Dogs were just going crazy”
Wrote Hoag, “He stood up and backed away from the dogs, but tripped over the curb and fell, he testified. One dog began biting his left leg, ‘tearing away my muscles,’ Wayne Vanlanham remembered, “while the other two bit his right leg and one of his arms.”
“The dogs were just going crazy,” a witness told the Saginaw News, declining to be identified from fear of retaliation by the pit bulls’ owners.
Other men in the neighborhood tried to help. “One of the men was swinging a knife, trying to defend himself,” the witness said, but effectively stabbing or slashing a lunging pit bull is approximately as difficult as hitting a major league slider. The knife was ineffective.
“They were all over him”
“They were all over him,” the witness concluded. “Those dogs needed to be shot. If those were children out there, they’d be dead. The dogs would have torn them up.”
Buena Vista Township police officer Shawntina Austin, the first to the scene, “was able to prevent the dogs from getting back at Vanlanham,” VanLanHam testified.
The pit bulls retreated to a nearby rental home occupied by then-24-year-old Shamorrow Amos and her then-33-year-old boyfriend, Anthony D. “Poodle” Hunt.
Buena Vista Township police officer Jason Hendricks shot one of the three
“The officer used extreme caution in the direction of his fire because of the many
bystanders around,” Buena Vista Township police detective Kevin Kratz told media.
“That guy deserves an award”
Altogether, three Buena Vista police officers, three detectives, police chief Brian Booker, several Buena Vista Fire Department personnel, and “three or four” Saginaw police officers converged to help Hadley and Vanlanham, and to keep the pit bulls contained until the two pit bulls who were not shot could be captured by animal control officers and impounded at the Saginaw County Animal Care Center.
“That guy deserves an award, if you ask me,” Hendricks told Wyche and Brunner.
Booker agreed that Vanlanham was “the hero in all this,” because “He went to [Hadley’s] rescue.”
Lost five toes & four fingers
Vanlanham “lost all five toes on his right foot and four fingers as a result of the attack and has since had several infections that hospitalized him other times,” wrote Hoag.
After more than two hours of emergency surgery at the St. Mary’s of Michigan Covenant Medical Center in Saginaw, Vanlanham was hospitalized for five months, Saginaw News reporter Gus Burns detailed in an October 2009 follow-up.
“Doctors released him,” wrote Burns, “but infection from the saliva of the dogs entered his bloodstream. One day he collapsed, he said. When he awakened, or ‘came back alive,’ as he described it, a week later, he was filled with tubes, back in a bed at St. Mary’s of Michigan. Slowly, doctors fought back the blood infection, and he moved to a Heartland Health Center in Bridgeport Township.
Lost sister & stepfather
“More tragedy struck,” Burns related. “One day [August 18, 2009] he planned to visit his sister, Shirley J. Vanlanham, 52, but was unable because of a medical complication. The next day, she died unexpectedly after a brief illness stemming from a prior stroke, said their sister, Baston.
“His 93-year-old stepfather, Walter Cureton Sr., who raised Vanlanham from age 7, died days later.
“After that,” Burns wrote, “Vanlanham went into a “fiercely deep depression,” said Baston. “His medical bills surpassed his Medicaid coverage for treatment by $25,000, Baston said.”
Stood up in court
Though unable to stand for extended periods, Vanlanham did manage to stand up in court to testify against Shamorrow Amos and Anthony D. “Poodle” Hunt at their May 2010 trial on multiple related counts.
Contending that he and Amos were not guilty because the pit bulls who mauled Hadley and Vanlanham were not theirs, Hunt testified that he and Amos formerly owned Ma, the mother of the three pit bulls, but gave them away after Hunt was cited, two months before the attack, for keeping them without a license. Hunt and Amos later gave away Ma, Hunt added, in compliance with a court order that forbade him from keeping dogs.
The jury nonetheless convicted Hunt and Amos on four of six counts of possessing a dangerous animal causing serious injury.
Perp again has a pit?
Saginaw County Circuit Judge Janet M. Boes sentenced Hunt to serve from five to eight years in prison, as a “habitual offender” with multiple prior convictions. Boes sentenced Amos to spend three months under house arrest, plus three years on probation, ordered her to not own or be in the care of a dog, and further ordered her to complete an adult education program to earn her high school diploma.
Amos, while Vanlanham was still hospitalized, had a brush with random violence herself when her cousin Barnell Amos, 41, and his nephew, Devin Elliott, nine, were in September 2009 fatally shot during a home invasion robbery. The killings remain unsolved.
As of September 2015, Amos apparently again had a pit bull, according to photos she posted to Facebook.
Won lawsuit but not $2 million award
Fifteen months elapsed before Judge Boes finally allowed Saginaw County Animal Care Center director Valerie McCullough to euthanize Amos and Hunt’s two pit bulls who were captured alive at the scene after Hadley and Vanlanham were attacked.
Hadley and Vanlanham sued Amos and Hunt.
Saginaw County, Michigan Circuit Judge Fred L. Borchard appears to have issued the second highest award for dog attack damages then on public record when on July 17, 2011 he signed default judgments against Amos and Hunt, ordering them to pay $2 million each to Hadley and Vananham.
“They are unlikely to ever see money,” wrote Andy Hoag, “because Hunt is imprisoned until 2015 for possessing the dogs who attacked Hadley and Vanlanham. Amos is on probation until 2013 for the same crime and receives disability payments from the federal Social Security Administration because, the administration states in court documents, she has “anxiety-related disorders and schizophrenia, paranoia, or other functional psychotic disorders.”
“I have faith. Something good will come out of it.”
Amos through her attorney filed an affidavit saying she could not respond to the civil suit because of her “state of illiteracy coupled with my total understanding of matters borders on incompetency,” according to Hoag.
“VanLanHam and Hadley also sued Eldred Rentals, the company that owned Amos’ home,” Hoag reported. But Borchard dismissed that case, ruling that “The landlord did not have a duty to protect third parties from injuries inflicted by a tenant’s pet that occur away from the leased premises.”
Explained Hoag, “The only other avenue for VanLanHam and Hadley to collect from Hunt and Amos would have been through restitution ordered after their criminal case, but the county prosecutor’s office did not pursue that avenue. County Assistant Prosecutor Norm Donker, who tried the case, said his office didn’t request restitution because of the pending civil case.”
“I have faith. Something good will come out of it,” Vanlanham told Hoag.
2001 Saginaw fatality
Concern about dangerous dogs had been building in Saginaw since January 15, 2001, when Kelly Sue Jaime, 22, was killed just inside the door of her apartment by two Presa Canarios allegedly owned by relatives who lived downstairs.
Kelly Sue Jaime, whose maiden name was Leonard, had married Ryan N. Jaime, a soldier stationed in Texas, just three weeks before her death. Originally from upstate New York, she was not well known in Saginaw.
Stronger dangerous dog legislation was discussed after her death, but nothing appears to have actually been drafted until in August 2008 two pit bulls dug under the fence surrounding the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, killing two goats and a rooster, injuring sheep, goats and cattle.
New ordinance cut dog attacks by more than half
The pit bull attack on Hadley and Vanlanham pushed through to passage a dangerous dog ordinance, taking effect in June 2011, which requires residents to register pit bulls, Presa Canarios, bull mastiffs, Rottweilers and German shepherds as “dangerous dogs,” post a “Dog on premises” sign where the dogs are kept, and either keep the dogs leashed or behind a four-foot fence when outdoors.
Saginaw issued 37 citations for violations of the ordinance during the first eighteen months it was in effect. The number of reported dog bite injuries in Saginaw dropped from 24 in 2009 to just nine in 2011.
The ordinance remains in effect despite repeated attempts by pit bull advocates to repeal it.
Wayne Vanlanham, meanwhile, “found out he had Stage 4 throat cancer in September 2018,” reported Bob Johnson of Michigan Live.
“Even after he found out he had cancer, we have pictures of him playing dominoes at our family Christmas celebration,” his niece Crystal Clark told Johnson. “Overall, he was the same Uncle Wayne. Fun and energetic.”
The Vanlanham family set up a GoFundMe account called “Burial For Saginaw Hometown Hero” to help with funeral expenses.