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Indiana County man to stand trial in dog mauling

| Thursday, April 4, 2002

An Indiana County man who police say was drunk when he delayed seeking help for a female companion mauled by a 178-pound Great Dane will stand trial on a charge of recklessly endangering her life.

James David Stonebraker, 50, of 61 Cooper Ave., Homer City, waived his right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday before District Justice Jennifer Rega of Blairsville, a move that will send the case to court. A more serious charge of criminal trespass was dismissed.

Stonebraker is accused of waiting up to an hour to summon aid for Lois June Griffith, 50, also of Homer City, who accompanied him to a remote campground near Homer City just after 10 p.m. on Feb. 2.

According to police, Stonebraker asked Griffith to drive him to the site, located off Myers Road in Brushvalley Township. Police said Stonebraker was familiar with the location because he had occasionally worked there for Forrest E. Harris of Blairsville, who owns the property and the dog.

The dog attacked Griffith shortly after she got out of the car, leaving her with massive head, facial and other bodily wounds as well as a collapsed lung, according to the police report.

Stonebraker told police he was in a cabin on the premises turning on the lights when the dog attacked, according to the report. Stonebraker said he went back outside after hearing Griffith scream and pulled the dog off her before taking her into the cabin.

Police said Stonebraker admitted waiting for a time before contacting anyone and calling only Harris instead of police or medical personnel. Stonebraker also told police the dog had bitten other strangers in the past.

Stonebraker was covered with blood and was "obviously in a very intoxicated state" when he left the two-story cabin to meet police, according to the report. "(Stonebraker) was not making any sense but was able to convey that the woman he was with had been bitten by a dog," stated the report, filed by Indiana-based state police Trooper Kurtis P. Rummel.

Rummel said the dog was chained and Griffith was inside the cabin bleeding from her injuries when he arrived. He found part of the woman's scalp in the driveway where the attack occurred, the trooper said.

Griffith was treated at the scene before being flown by medical helicopter to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where she was initially listed in fair condition.

Rummel said Harris, who notified authorities after speaking to Stonebraker, confirmed that Stonebraker had worked for him at the campsite and had stayed there on occasion.

He also told police Stonebraker was not supposed to have keys to the cabin or go onto the grounds without permission, which Harris said he had not granted for that night.

At yesterday's hearing, the charge of criminal trespass, a felony that carries a maximum of seven years in jail, was dropped because interviews with residents near the site indicate Stonebraker may have had reason to believe he was allowed on the premises without consent, Rummel said.

Griffith, wearing a white headdress to cover some of her scars, said after the hearing that she was surprised the criminal trespass charge had been filed against Stonebraker. "I never knew why they went after him for that anyway," she said. "He had a key to the place and told me he had been staying there."

Griffith has since filed a lawsuit against Harris and his wife, Mary, seeking at least $25,000 in damages from the attack. She said she spent about 2 1/2 weeks in the hospital and faces additional treatment for her injuries.

The dog was turned over to a veterinarian for observation after the attack. The animal has reportedly since been destroyed at Harris' request, although neither Harris nor his attorney, Patrick Loughney of Pittsburgh, would confirm it.

Stonebraker, who had been held at the county jail in lieu of $20,000 bond, was released March 13 on his own recognizance. His hearing had been postponed twice.

The charge of recklessly endangering another person is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

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