INDEPENDENCE, Va.—Two Grayson County residents are in jail after a 15-month-old child was attacked by a pit bull and later died, authorities said.
John Underwood, 51, and Terra Connell, 29, currently face charges of felony child neglect and possession of a vicious dog. Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan said additional charges are now pending as investigators confer with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.
The Sheriff’s Office was called to a residence on Penn Ford Road in Grayson County on Wednesday night. The pair said they were babysitting the child.
Underwood told officers that he was awakened when the child was screaming, according to a written statement from the Sheriff’s Office. The child had been mauled by their pit bull mix dog, named E.J., and had the child’s head in its mouth.
Underwood was bitten in the face while trying to intervene in the attack, the statement said. The child was flown to Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she died on Friday night.
Animal control seized the dog and warrants were obtained. The animal control officer said the county had not received any prior bite reports regarding the animal, but that witnesses have reported observing aggressive behavior from the dog previously.
Investigators executed a search warrant at the residence and said they found illegal drugs and ammunition. The pair was then arrested. Connell was also charged with possession of illegal drugs and possession of ammunition by a felon.
“This tragic incident could have been prevented had the dog’s owners taken some basic precautions,” Vaughan said.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there are about 4.5 million Americans bitten by dogs every year. There were 40 verified dog bite-related fatalities in 2014.
Grayson County Crime Prevention Officer Doug Carner said the key to preventing dog bites starts with responsible pet ownership. Dog owners should never leave an infant or young child alone with any dog, especially an aggressive one. Children should also not be allowed to interact inappropriately with the dog, interact with the dog while it is eating food or chewing on a toy, roughhouse, tease, touch or move a dog against its will, Carner said.
Underwood and Connell remain in custody at the New River Valley Regional Jail with no bond. Arraignment is scheduled for Monday. The disposition of the animal is pending court action.