Marina Gabunia Verriest & Omar Ghawtah had little in common but shared their fate
ALBERTSON, New York; HOUSTON, Texas––Marina Gabunia and Omar Ghawtah fled to the U.S. to escape threats of violence and persecution in their nations of birth, but in July 2022 both became victims of canine violence, eight days and 1,700 miles apart.
Marina Gabunia, 70, from the independent nation of Georgia, embroiled in civil war during the 1990s and invaded by Russia in 2008, had remarried to Richard Verriest, 66.
Sharing the longtime Verriest family home in western Long Island, just outside New York City, Marina Gabunia Verriest had established herself as a classical piano player.
Her abrupt bloody death on the morning of July 27, 2022, the 41st U.S. dog attack victim of 2022, made the top of the news throughout the New York City region.
Killed coming home from first job
Ghawtah, 16, three months after arriving from Egypt with his mother and younger sister, had recently found his first job.
Returning home from work on June 19, 2022, Ghawtah stepped off a bus at about 10:45 p.m. in the 14100 block of Alief Clodine, a major tollway, just west of Chinatown on the west side of Houston.
Ghawtah began to walk the rest of the way home, but within minutes was chased into traffic by an aggressive dog, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and was fatally struck by a 2007-2014 white Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.
The driver, instead of stopping, fled the scene.
“Ghawtah’s family said it usually takes him 15 to 20 minutes to walk home from the bus stop,” Click2 Houston reported, “so when he wasn’t answering his phone, his mother said she got worried and called 911. Gonzalez said that’s when the mother found out her son had been killed.”
Ghawtah’s death became known to the world through police bulletins seeking the hit-and-run driver who finished what the unidentified dog had started.
Marina Gabunia Verriest was at that moment in mourning for her son, Giorgi “Gio” Chochia, 38, who shared the Verriest home, with his pit bull Zeusi, acquired as a puppy and a member of the household for seven years.
Riding his Yamaha R1 sport motorcycle, Giorgi Chochia was on July 17, 2022 killed in an accident in Williston Park, New York, on the Wantagh Parkway.
“Gio left this world on July 17, 2022 doing what he loved,” his stepbrother Rick Verriest, 40, posted to Facebook.
Officer shot Zeusi
Ten days later, reported Dennis A. Clark and Patrick Reilly of the New York Post, “Marina Verriest’s husband returned home from work at around 1:00 p.m. and discovered his wife’s mutilated body being dragged through the backyard” by Zeusi, “according to Nassau County Police and neighbors.”
Said Nassau County police commissioner Patrick Ryder, “The scene was pretty horrific. We don’t know what time the attack took place, but there was obviously a lot of mutilation on the body and the arm, the face, the legs.”
Added Ryder, “There had been no previous domestic calls to the home or calls regarding the dog.”
Richard Verriest “called police,” said NBC New York, “and an officer who responded to the scene shot the dog after the canine turned and charged at him. The officer was taken to the hospital, police said, traumatized after what he had seen in the yard.”
Pianist for Evensong & Match
Marina Gabunia Verriest studied piano from the age of six at the M. Balanchivadze Music College and the V. Saradjishvili Conservatory & Academi in the Republic of Georgia.
She went on to play for operas and ballet performances, before coming to the U.S., where she worked at the Juilliard School of Music and at the Ballet Academy East, both in New York City.
Marina Gabunia Verriest was in 2013 praised by reviewer Gwen Orel for her performance of music by the Polish composer Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1849) as background to the Mary Gage documentary drama Evensong.
In 2014 Marina Gabunia Verriest played a Juilliard pianist in Match, a film written and directed by Stephen Belber, based on his 2004 play of the same name, starring Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard. The film was released to critical acclaim on January 14, 2015.
Marina Gabunia Verriest on January 7, 2021 incorporated Gilbertsville Trucking, LLC, a one tractor, one trailer company possibly operated by her husband and/or sons.
First known Vietnamese pit bull victim
Within the eight-day span between the deaths of Omar Ghawtah and Marina Gabunia Verriest, pit bulls contributed to two other human deaths, both on July 23, 2022.
The first, an eight-year-old boy in Binh Phuoc Province, became the first known pit bull victim in Vietnam when fatally mauled at his grandparents’ house in Dong Tien Commune.
His grandmother, Le Thi Lien, had reportedly been asked to keep the pit bull temporarily for a neighbor who was away, and had chained the pit bull in her backyard.
The victim entered the yard while the grandmother was asleep in her hammock.
Ronald Dale Jones
The second pit bull victim of the day was Ronald Dale Jones, 64, of East Alton, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St Louis, Missouri.
According to the Bethalto, Illinois police department, a caller from Neuman’s Olde Oak Ridge Trailer Park in East Alton at 10:37 a.m. “reported multiple dogs fighting and attacking people,” near where East Alton meets Bethalto, a suburb.
“An officer arrived to find a female, who had been bitten multiple times wrestling with two actively fighting dogs, an unresponsive male lying on the ground, and a third dog that was badly injured,” a Bethalto police department media release recounted.
Female owned two of the three
“The female was transported from the scene by Emergency Medical Services to a St. Louis Regional Hospital,” the police media release continued, “where she is being treated for what appear to be multiple bites and other associated injuries.
“The injured female has been identified as the owner of two of the three dogs involved, while Jones was identified as the owner of the third dog, who was seriously injured.
“Initial evidence,” the police department release offered, “suggests that Jones was walking his dog on a leash when the two other dogs, also being walked on leashes pulled their owner down, breaking free from her grasp, and attacked Jones’ dog.
“Both owners attempted to separate the dogs at the scene for several minutes before Jones collapsed,” apparently from a fatal heart attack.
Social media postings indicate that Jones’ dog was a pit bull and that several of his friends and relatives in the vicinity had multiple pit bulls.