Fumbling response to Tony Ahrens & Amber Miller mauling deaths outrages many in Newport, Tennessee
NEWPORT, Tennessee––One hundred nineteen days after the April 1, 2021 dog attack death of Tony Ahrens, 52, sixteen days after three dogs were seen standing over Amber Miller, 29, fatally mauled at the same location on July 12, 2021, the sheriff’s office in Cocke County, Tennessee at last executed a search warrant related to the case and arrested a “person of interest.”
But the “person of interest” did not stay in jail for long.
Summarized Robert Holder of WATE-TV in Knoxville, “Investigators learned Miller’s injuries occurred near or on [Charles] Owensby’s residence,” at 522 Carnation Way, Newport, just off the Jimtown Road.
Ex-wife’s premises searched
“On July 19, 2021,” Holder continued, “a forensic team from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation gathered evidence from Owensby’s residence and property. A few days later, he was interviewed.
“On July 28, 2021, around six a.m., the Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant at a residence of Owensby’s ex-wife in the Edwina community,” an unincorporated hamlet about four and a half miles south of 522 Carnation Way.
Owensby’s ex-wife, Cecilia “Tillie” Gregg McCarter, who divorced him in 2015, is a pharmacist in Morristown, Tennessee, about 20 miles north. In 1994 she shot a 34-year-old man named Everett Woody (1960-2016) at the 522 Carnation Way address.
The nonfatal shooting was ruled accidental.
Arrested for marijuana & released on $1,000 bond
Charles Owensby “was arrested at the scene for possession of marijuana and an aggressive dog was taken into custody,” Holder said.
Owensby, with an extensive multi-state arrest record and at least one felony conviction, for concealing stolen property, was reportedly released on bond of $1,000.
Added Holder, “Investigators collected DNA from two other dogs at the location that belonged to other people in two separate homes on the property. [Sheriff Armando] Fontes,” who was conspicuously absent from involvement in the Ahrens and Miller death investigations earlier, “said deputies had probable cause to seize the animals.
“While searching the scene, officers located a shallow grave at the property containing a dead dog. Investigators collected DNA from it and seized a vehicle owned by Owensby to undergo forensic processing,” Holder finished.
Why obtaining and executing the search warrant took nearly four months and a second death after Charles Everett Owensby, 69, reporting finding Ahrens’ body near his mailbox remains unclear.
As the Cocke County Sheriff Office mentioned in announcing Ahrens’ death, 17 days later, “The body appeared to have been partially devoured by an animal.”
The Cocke County Sheriff Office later acknowledged that, “The male had lacerations across his entire body and flesh missing from his left arm,” indicative of having been pulled down by his arm while trying to fend off the dog or dogs who killed him.
The Cocke County Sheriff Office already knew that Owensby, known on Facebook as “Charlie Dogman,” kept dogs identified by multiple neighbors as Cane Corsos, including in multiple bite complaints, neighbors testified in Facebook posts.
Dogs already “well known to police”
Owensby, detailed Paige Hill for WVLT, “was previously accused of ordering his dogs to attack a man, prompting an aggravated assault and an evading police charge.”
Moreover, the Cocke County Sheriff Office already had direct experience with at least one of Owensby’s dogs.
Elaborated Grace King of WBIR, “In 2014, court affidavits show [Owensby’s] ‘dog was on the front porch and became aggressive with [Newport] police.’ The documents said Owensby ran out the back door after police identified themselves.
“At the time, they were serving a warrant for possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, reckless endangerment with a weapon, aggravated assault, and violating an order of protection.”
Trainer son also lists scene as residence
Charles Owensby’s son Joshua Everett Owensby, alias Joshua Everett Cole, 41, has also recently listed 522 Carnation Way as his residence, describing himself on Facebook as a self-employed certified dog trainer.
A large dog cage in the yard at 522 Carnation Way can be seen from the Jimtown Road.
If the dogs were present, albeit caged after perhaps being rounded up after the attack, why were they not immediately impounded on a probable cause warrant and their feces tested for the presence of DNA from the victim Ahrens?
If the dogs were not present, why was a search-and-seizure warrant not immediately obtained in an effort to locate them and discover if they had been removed from the scene before the sheriff’s office was called?
Such actions would not have precluded also searching for any other dogs who might have been involved.
Amber Miller death could have been prevented
Had any of this been done, Amber Miller very likely would not have been fatally attacked 103 days later.
But as ANIMALS 24-7 detailed on July 23, 2021, the Cocke County Sheriff Office does not appear to have done much of anything that is normally done in dog attack investigations, even after local minister Tony Mayes and an unidentified friend, passing by on the Jimtown Road, found Miller with, according to medical personnel who tried to save her life, her calf “ripped off” and both of her arms “barely attached to her body.”
Asserted Sheriff Fontes in July 28, 2021 media release, “There was no information and no apparent evidence of dogs being involved at the time” of Ahrens’ death.
“Investigators did see injuries that could have been consistent with some sort of animal in the Ahrens case,” Fontes admitted, “but rely on forensics and other special investigators to determine what caused the injuries.”
Death scenes not secured
But making a final determination as to what caused what in an unattended death investigation is not the job of the first responders.
The job of the first responders normally begins with securing the scene and preserving all possible evidence.
This includes very promptly obtaining a search-and-seizure warrant to enable discovering any evidence from adjacent properties.
In the specific instance of a possible animal attack, securing the scene includes impounding any potentially suspect dogs in the area, ideally before blood and other physical evidence can be washed off of their bodies; holding the dogs for a rabies quarantine of 10 days to two weeks, as allowed by law; if flesh may have been ingested by the dogs, holding the dogs for at least long enough to collect DNA samples from their feces; and also searching nearby for any other relevant evidence, such as bits of clothing, that may indicate the movements of the victim, the attacking animals, and/or anyone who might have tampered with the evidence before first responders arrived.
Delay = loss of evidence
“At this time, this case heavily relies on forensic science,” Fontes continued. “At this time, we do not have any evidence that indicates that there is a wild animal, domestic animal, or pack of animals that is frequenting the Jimtown area attacking people. We, however, are asking people to be cautious in the area as we wait on forensic reports that take a month or so.
“Once we conclude a thorough investigation, have all evidence, all witnesses, and anything that pertains to these cases,” Fontes pledged, “we will present the facts to a grand jury for criminal indictments against any person involved in this case. Prematurely charging any individual without all facts may result in a dismissal of the case and justice for these victims will not be served.”
Fontes did not mention that belatedly investigating possible crimes may result in significant loss of evidence, such that no case can be made at all, resulting in no semblance of justice for anyone.
Dug up the wrong dog?
More than 100 days elapsed after the death of Ahrens, and a week after Miller suffered fatal injuries, though she survived for six days at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, before the Cocke County Sheriff Office asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for forensic help.
At that, Cadence Gregg, granddaughter of Cecilia “Tillie” McCarter, alleged in the Cocke County Life news and discussion group on Facebook that the investigation was misdirected.
Charles Owensby, Gregg said, “was staying with my mamaw. They searched my mamaw and dad’s property and dug up mine and my mamaw’s dog that died around 3 months ago. Keep in mind this property is in Edwina, not Jimtown. The dog they dug up did not leave the house/property from Edwina ever in his lifetime.
Suspect dogs killed?
“They tested four dogs,” Gregg wrote, “the dog they dug up, the two my dad and mamaw own, which are only 7 months old, and the one they actually took into custody.”
That dog, Gregg claimed, “is 17 years old and the only reason they took her is because they had to arrest Charlie and she couldn’t stay with my mamaw and dad.”
Charles Owensby “has had dogs,” Gregg acknowledged, “as he is a well-known dog trainer, but about a month or two ago someone killed all of his dogs, except for one, which is the one that the cops took into their custody. They were killed weeks before Amber was,” Gregg asserted.
This appears to be the first and only public claim that any of the dogs suspected of attacking people and animals in the vicinity of 522 Carnation Way had been killed.
Did cops favor “person of interest”?
There appears to be widespread suspicion in Newport that the Cocke County Sheriff Office did not move faster and more effectively in response to the deaths of Tony Ahrens and Amber Miller because both had troubled histories, while Charles Owensby has been repeatedly identified by online comments as a suspected police informant.
Tony Ahrens was reportedly homeless, living under a 19th century railway bridge near the scene of his death, though he was locally employed.
Amber Miller was reportedly raised by her grandparents after her father, Robert Scott Miller, 26, a five-year Cocke County deputy sheriff, was on October 11, 1994 shot dead while helping the FBI to apprehend two fugitives.
Both Amber Miller and her mother, Cindy Miller, struggled later with substance abuse, and were occasionally arrested.
Amber Miller charged in 2018
Most seriously, Amber Miller was in January 2018 charged with three counts each of child abuse and neglect after calling to tell the Cocke County Sheriff Office that first one of her children and then another had stopped breathing, and that she was having breathing trouble herself.
The Morristown Citizen Tribune reported that, “Miller told officers she was taking Suboxone and also was breastfeeding. She failed a subsequent test for amphetamines, methamphetamine, buprenorphine and MDMA (ecstasy).”
Subsequent to that, though, both Amber and Cindy Miller appeared to have turned their lives around.
“Someone needs to be held accountable”
“I was there when she was made, as she grew up, and held her while she died in my arms, just as she was born,” Cindy Miller told ANIMALS 24-7. “Ashes to ashes dust to dust, and I am broken, heart, mind and soul. I have not even received a courtesy call regarding Amber’s––well, let’s call how I see it, murder.
“Scott, her dad, gave his life in defense of our county’s citizens,” Cindy Miller said. “We used to be a part of that justice community. Not any longer. I gave 10 years of my life working for county ambulance service, three years at 911. I also coached sports in the community every season, dedicated to give what Amber needed.
“My baby girl is gone and I had to watch her die a slow agonizing death.
“Please help me,” Cindy Miller asked, “to demand action. Someone needs to be held accountable.”