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December 14, 2013

Suit filed in case of woman killed by dog

VALDOSTA — The husband of a woman attacked and killed by a pit bull has filed a wrongful death suit against Lowndes County, its animal shelter and the residents of the home where the attack occurred.

Misty Wyno, 40, was attacked and killed by a male pit bull on Dec. 8, 2011, while visiting her neighbors at a 4600 block Mount Zion Road residence. She went to her neighbor’s residence to borrow some grits when a dog either broke its chain or was unchained and attacked. She was bitten severely on her legs, arms and head and died as a result of her injuries, according to reports.

The civil action filed Thursday, Dec. 5, in Lowndes County Superior Court, by Jason Wyno, the victim’s husband, names Lowndes County Animal Control and several employees as defendants as well as Jerrica Gonzalez, Cole Warner and Bobbi Joe Courson, the three individuals who were living in the residence.

The suit claims Lowndes County Animal Control acted negligently in its handling of previous complaints about animals at the Mount Zion Road address and nearby residences and acted with malice by “repeatedly refusing to investigate or take any action with regards to the dangerous dogs” at those locations, according to court documents.

The action was filed just days before the statute of limitations ran out on Monday, Dec. 9. Georgia state code allows a two-year window from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim.

The suit lists six instances in which animal control responded to complaints about various dogs at Mount Zion Road residences, including a Sept. 13, 2011, incident in which a child was bitten on the face while trying to reach puppies in a dog house. The suit claims no dog was seized in this case and no action was taken; however, the dog was seized after the incident, observed and returned to the owners on Oct. 7, 2011, according to animal control reports. As a matter of policy, animal control does not return animals to owners if they are deemed dangerous, said Paige Dukes, Lowndes County clerk. Though mentioned in the suit, this is not the same dog involved in Misty Wyno’s death.

“That is not the same dog, but the suit implies that it is,” said Jim Elliott, attorney for Lowndes County.

Elliott does not believe the dog responsible for Misty Wyno’s death was ever involved in a situation where the county responded. The incident’s investigative case file lists 11 instances when animal control was called to Mount Zion Road residences to respond to complaints about dogs owned by Warner and Gonzalez, but shows no record of an incident involving the pit bull named Grinder that attacked Wyno.

Following the attack, Grinder and the female dog that bit the child on the face in September were relinquished to animal control by Warner and Gonzalez and euthanized, according to records. Documents indicate that Warner was the owner of the dog that killed Wyno.

“I do not believe the allegations against the county and the county’s employees to be true,” said Elliott. “And the law is clear that the behavior of dogs in situations like these that result in a death is the responsibility of the dog owners.”

Elliott only represents Lowndes County, the animal shelter and its employees in this case. As of Friday, Gonzalez has been served with a notice of the suit. Courson and Warner had not.

In July 2012, Southern District Attorney J. David Miller sought a grand jury indictment of Gonzalez, Warner and Courson on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, but a Lowndes County grand jury did not find sufficient evidence and did not issue an indictment.

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