One child killed & one nearly killed within minutes on sixth day of the year
EAST BATON ROUGE, Louisiana; APPLING, Georgia––The first human death by dog attack in 2023 came earlier in the year than the first fatal dog attack of any of the 40-plus previous years that ANIMALS 24-7 has logged fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
The second human death by dog attack of 2023 might have come just minutes later, but for good luck and quick intervention.
Sadie Davila, 7, and Justin Stevens Gilstrap, 11, respectively of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Appling, Georgia, were both playing outside near their homes shortly after 6:00 p.m. on January 6, 2023, enjoying the last light on a short winter day.
Yes, all considered, it was the breed
Then pit bulls killed Davila and nearly killed Stevens Gilstrap, almost simultaneously but 657 miles apart.
Davila died soon afterward. Stevens Gilstrap, rushed to hospital in critical condition, and in a medically induced coma for much of the time since he was attacked, has survived multiple surgeries and will endure permanent disfigurement.
The pit bull owners, Erick Chinchilla Lopez, 20, and Burt Thomas Baker III, 26, neither of whom were home at the time, apparently knowingly allowed the pit bulls to run at large in their absence.
One might question why the victims remained outdoors, 45 minutes after dusk, and point out that irresponsible dog ownership on the part of Lopez and Baker was a major contributing factor in both attacks, but the bottom line in both attacks is that if the dogs running at large had not been pit bulls, whose behavior tends to leave no margin for error, most likely neither child would have suffered more than a bite.
Erick Chinchilla Lopez, apparently no relation to the “Erick Chinchilla” who is an online vendor of pit bull accessories, was taken into custody and charged with negligent homicide the morning after his pit bull killed Sadie Davila, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks told media.
Emergency Medical Services and the St. George Fire Department responded first to the Davila family calls for help, but first grader Sadie Davilla died soon after her 20-minute ambulance ride to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
One of Sadie Davila’s relatives “tried to intervene by hitting the dog with a walking cane, but was unable to stop the attack,” reported Baton Rouge Advocate staff writer Elyse Carmosino.
“No fence or barrier”
“Medical staff at the hospital where the girl was treated told authorities the child suffered from ‘numerous dog bites to her face and substantial damage to her skull,’” Carmonsino wrote.
“After the incident,” Carmosino continued, “deputies and East Baton Rouge animal control officers found and captured the dog, “ after an hour-long effort, “who was observed to have blood around his face and mouth area. A ‘substantial’ amount of blood could also been seen in the yard where the victim had been playing,” according to the arrest warrant for Erick Lopez.
“Lopez, whose property sits roughly 150 yards from the home where the victim was attacked, told investigators he wasn’t home during the incident,” Carmosino wrote, “and that he regularly allowed the dog to roam the neighborhood unrestrained, the affidavit says.
“The document notes there is no fence or barrier between the two homes.”
Animal control chief testifies
Lopez was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison for holding pending a bail hearing.
“Animal Control officials told WBRZ the pit bull was euthanized,” WBRZ-Baton Rouge reported.
Both East Baton Rouge and West Baton Rouge have had serious issues with pit bull proliferation for decades, 40-year East Baton Rouge Parish animal control director Hilton Cole emailed to ANIMALS 24-7 on June 20, 2008.
“This department is normally inundated with pit bulls and related problems,” Cole acknowledged. “We, unfortunately in my opinion, failed in 2006 to pass breed specific regulation of pit bulls. I have done a 180 on this,” Cole admitted.
“We have a pit bull problem”
East Baton Rouge Parish data from the first half of 2007 showed that 56 pit bulls accounted for 61% of reported dangerous dog incidents, “with next highest being Rottweilers with 4,” Cole said.
This represented the fifth consecutive year of rising numbers of dangerous dog incidents and pit bull impoundments, Cole reported.
“We have a pit bull problem,” Cole concluded. “The national organizations need to stop pussy-footing re pit ownership and realize that it has become dangerous out here for animal control officers and citizens.”
Police dog attack problem in Baton Rouge, too
The East Baton Rouge pit bull situation did not improve before Cole retired in 2019, but in February 2021 the Marshall Project revealed that Baton Rouge also had a major problem with police dogs [German shepherds and Malinois] attacking civilians.
The Marshall Project, founded in 2014 in honor of Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, describes itself as “a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system.”
“Between 2017 and 2019, Baton Rouge police dogs bit at least 146 people, records show,” wrote Marshall Project reporters Bryn Stole and Grace Toohey.
The police dog bite rate in Baton Rouge was more than twice the bite rate in any other U.S. city.
So what cop was disciplined?
Of the Baton Rouge police dog bite rate victims, Stole and Toohey summarized, “53 were 17 years old or younger; the youngest were just 13. Almost all of the people bitten were black, and most were unarmed and suspected by police of nonviolent crimes like driving a stolen vehicle or burglary.”
No police officers were known to have been punished for misuse of dogs in recent years, but Abraham Wilson III, an African-American officer serving since 2012, was in 2017 suspended for five days for shooting two pit bulls who reportedly chased a robbery victim under a house, then charged Wilson.
Mace and a Taser had repeatedly failed to stop the pit bulls.
“They like to chase people on bicycles”
The pit bull attack on Justin Stevens Gilstrap came to the attention of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the agency posted to social media, when “Around 7 p.m. we were called in reference to a dog attack on an 11-year-old boy. When we arrived on scene,” in the Rolling Meadows development in Appling, an outlying northwestern suburb of Augusta, “Animal Control was in the process of taking three dogs into their custody. 11-year-old Justin Gilstrap was attacked by three dogs while riding his bicycle.
“All three dogs attacked Justin on the side of the road in the ditch,” the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office continued, “causing substantial injuries to his body that appeared to be life threatening.
“The owner of the dogs, Burt Baker III,” who had at least one recent criminal arrest, “arrived on the scene and admitted that the dogs were his, and later stated they like to chase people on bicycles.
Charged with reckless conduct
“After learning from animal control officer Dana Csira that Baker has had reports and warnings in the past, Burt was taken into custody, charged with reckless conduct.”
Elaborated WRDW/WAGT news, of nearby Grovetown, “Ericka Stevens Gilstrap, the mother of the victim, says her son told her he was riding his bike when one pit bull started barking at him and then grabbed his leg. A second pit bull then came up and grabbed him on his bottom.
“That’s when he fell off the bike and a third pit bull then came up and dragged him into a ditch. Ericka says her 11-year-old nephew is the one who called 911 after discovering Justin in the ditch.”
“My child could have died tonight”
Said Ericka Stevens on camera, “My child could have died tonight, all because they [the local animal control and sheriff’s office] have not done anything about several reports that have been done. And the neighbors even told me that they would testify that they’ve made reports on these dogs too. Nobody’s ever done anything. They just run loose. They’re not behind the fence. They’re not tied up. They run loose 24/7.″
Now Stevens Gilstrap “is missing 70% of his scalp, and has several lacerations and staples,” Ericka Stevens continued. “They couldn’t close the wound on his leg, and now he’s running a fever.”
“Limited interactions & warnings”
Followed up Abby Bradshaw of WFXG in Evans, Georgia, “Officials say Columbia County Animal Services has responded to various complaints regarding dog issues in the Rolling Meadows subdivision for years. According to the county, Animal Services has had limited interactions with the owner of the dogs and warnings for allowing the dogs to run free were issued.
“In a release, the County also says Animal Services has no record of these dogs being aggressive towards people until now.”
One might have expected Columbia County Animal Services and other public safety agencies to be more on their toes than just having “limited interactions with the owner of the dogs and warnings for allowing the dogs to run free.”
Fresh in mind should have been that seven-month-old Serenity Garnett of Grovetown, 12 miles southeast, was fatally mauled on March 22, 2022, at her great grandmother’s house in Martinez, 10 miles straight east..
The killer dog in that instance was a family pit bull euphemistically called a “Great Pyrenees mix,” possibly to evade the pit bull restrictions in effect in neighboring Augusta.
Migdelia Guadalupe charged with murder
The great-grandmother, Migdelia Guadalupe, 56, was hospitalized for injuries suffered in trying to rescue Serenity Garnett, but “was arrested on charges of second-degree murder and possession of methamphetamine,” and “jailed without bond,” Jacqueline Gray reported for CrimeOnLine.
“WJBF reported that Garnett’s grandmother had dropped her off at the residence — where Guadalupe rents a room and watches the dog for the homeowner, who does not live there,” Grey summarized.
“A woman who previously rented a room at the home told WRDW that the dog, named Blade, killed her chihuahua three years earlier. WRDW reported that in April 2017, animal control officers responded to the home amid reports that a dog was guarding its owner and preventing her from getting medical care. Their report did not specify whether Blade was involved in the incident.”