Survivor of south Modesto dog attack improving

etracy@modbee.comOctober 20, 2014 

The surviving victim of a vicious dog mauling in south Modesto has been transferred out of an intensive care unit and is expected to survive, according to Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson.

Maria Fernandez, 77, remains hospitalized but is listed in stable condition. An autopsy conducted Monday on her son, 54-year-old Juan Fernandez, determined that he died from significant blood loss when he was mauled by four pit bulls in the backyard of his home on Glenn Avenue.

Because of the extent of Juan Fernandez’s injuries, the pathologist could not determine how many times he had been bitten, said Detective Josh Sandoval

The dogs were shot and killed by deputies who responded to the scene Oct. 14 after a 911 caller said he heard a man screaming for help.

Deputies arrived about 10 minutes later and found three of the dogs mauling Juan Hernandez, while the fourth circled them.

Deputies shot and killed two of the dogs at the scene and then the other two after they ran back into their yard and began acting aggressively toward the deputies.

“It is believed the dogs dug into the victim’s yard from their own yard,” Sandoval said. “Evidence at the scene shows that both victims were present in the backyard; however, there were no eyewitnesses to how the attack began.”

Detectives continue to investigate the attack and any potential negligence on the part of the dogs’ owner, who has not been charged with a crime.

Annette Patton, executive director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, said there were no previous reported incidents of violence from the pit bulls involved in the attack.

The agency can issue administrative citations for violations including dogs being outside of their yard, but Patton said that decision wouldn’t be made until after the criminal investigation is complete.

“We certainly want to hold someone criminally accountable for this tragedy,” Christianson said in statement to media. “Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that in order to charge a criminal act, there has to be a provable act of negligence. If we’re unable to prove that the dog owner was negligent in some form or fashion, there’s no way we’ll be able to present a prosecutable case to the district attorney.”

He said detectives are working with the District Attorney’s Office and reviewing other dog attack cases from throughout the state.

“If there’s a way to hold these dog owners criminally accountable, we’ll pursue it,” Christianson said.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.

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