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Staff photo by Aaron Aupperlee
John Peterson, left, and Jeff King stand in their yard on Second Street in Yermo. Across the street from their house, dogs attacked and killed Kelly Caldwell on Christmas evening.

Owners of dogs suspected in death say they weren’t aggressive

YERMO — A few candles, some stuffed animals and flowers lay on the brown dirt against a telephone pole, a small memorial for Kelly Caldwell. John Peterson and Jeff King can see it from their empty yard across Second Street.

They do not say much about the attack that occurred there Christmas evening; they weren’t home when it happened. But they do talk about their four dogs, the dogs detectives with the Barstow sheriff’s station believe were involved.

Peterson said the dogs, all Pit Bulls, were never aggressive and never bit anyone. They were friendly with people, Peterson said. He often took them for walks down to the nearby market where they would wait outside for Peterson while he shopped.

“That’s why it’s so mind-blowing,” Peterson said. “It’s not like we train animals to be mean. I’m totally against that.”

Caldwell, 45, of Yermo, was attacked Tuesday evening around 9:30 p.m. by several Pit Bulls as she walked along Second Street near Yermo Road. According to the sheriff’s report, the dogs jumped the fence at a neighboring home and ran across the street to attack Caldwell. Two of the dogs were shot by deputies when they became aggressive toward paramedics working on Caldwell and an animal control officer. Two other dogs were taken by animal control as evidence.

King, who held a photograph of one the dogs suspected to be involved in the attack, Peaches, playing with his 6-month old daughter, Victoria, said the dogs protected their yard but never were problems outside of the yard. Both think another neighboring dog instigated the attack and pointed to a property across Yermo Road from where the attack took place.

Keri Lattimer lives on the property but the large black-and-white Pit Bull barking in the back is not hers, she said. The property owner, whose name Lattimer could not remember on Thursday afternoon, owns the dog and periodically stops by to give the dog water.

She thinks the dog might have been involved. The dog is similar in color, black and white, to a description of one of the dogs involved and will try to jump on people, she said. It once tried to attack her brother and one of her brother’s friends.

“My brother can’t go near the dog,” she said. “The dog is vicious.”

Animal control officers stopped by the property on Thursday and issued a citation to the dog’s owner for a violation of the leash law. That citation was one of couple issued on Thursday by county animal control officers who responded to calls in Yermo during the day.

“They’re very strict now,” said Sharyl Johnson, who was walking her dog down Yermo Road on Thursday.

Johnson hopes the county will take increase pressure on dog owners in the wake of the attack. She has had run-ins with aggressive dogs before in Yermo. One of the dogs authorities believe was involved in Tuesday’s attack came after her the day before as she walked to work. She said she threw rocks at the dog, scared it off and got away before it could harm her. Before that, she said she has had a couple of run-ins with aggressive dogs in the past couple of months.

According to John Papp, a supervisor of field services for the San Bernardino County Animal Care and Control Program, animal received a couple of calls on Thursday from the area but said it did not indicate a substantial increase in the amount of calls. He said it may be a reaction to Tuesday’s attack.

Johnson, who has lived in Yermo for nine years, knew Caldwell and bought a trailer from her a few years ago. She said she has family and a daughter in the area.

“It was a terrible thing,” she said.

Detectives with the sheriff’s department are still waiting the results of an autopsy and several lab reports before concluding their investigation. Following the investigation, the report will be sent to the District Attorney’s office where charges could be filed.

Contact the writer:

(760) 256-4121 or aaron_aupperlee@link.freedom.com


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