A New Mexico woman died after being attacked by four pit bulls while taking a walk in her neighborhood on Easter Sunday in a mauling that ended only after a police officer began spraying the animals with bullets, authorities said Tuesday.
A police officer found four pit bulls mauling Margaret Salcedo when he arrived in response to a 911 call from a neighbor who heard her screams for help, said Patrick Gallagher, the police chief in the town of Truth or Consequences.
A young man driving by told police he tried to get out of his vehicle but the dogs threatened him and he stayed put, Gallagher said.
Officer James Harrington couldn't drive the animals off, and had to fire several shots at one of the dogs when it threatened him, the chief said. That animal fled, wounded, and the officer was able to scatter the remaining dogs.
Harrington and emergency technicians gave first aid to the 48-year-old Salcedo, but she died at a local hospital several hours after the attack in the central New Mexico community of about 7,500 people, Gallagher said.
"The wounds were very severe, bite wounds and tearing wounds to her extremities, so there was a lot of blood loss," Gallagher said.
The chief said he did not know Salcedo, but officers were told she does not own a car and walks where she needs to go. She has two grown children, he said.
The dogs' owners were not home when the attack occurred. The yard is fenced, but officers found several areas where the animals could have gotten out and into the neighborhood of single-family homes and mobile homes, Gallagher said.
Once Salcedo was on her way to the hospital, Harrington tracked the blood from the wounded dog and found the animals at their owners' home, Gallagher said. The dog that was shot was dead under the house, he said.
The surviving dogs were taken to the Sierra Animal Shelter, where they are quarantined pending the end of the investigation, Gallagher said. He said he expects the dogs will be euthanized once the investigation ends.
The city had not received any complaints about the dogs before the attack, Gallagher said. Salcedo's death was the first fatal dog attack death in the community, he said.
"We get complaints and sometimes we issue citations on vicious dogs but ... nothing with serious injuries. Like any other community, we have dogs that get out and might nip someone," Gallagher said.
Christina Salvato, manager of the animal shelter, said the three surviving animals, two females and a male, are pit bull mixes weighing 30 to 35 pounds each. The dog Harrington shot was a full pit bull that weighed about 60 pounds, she said.
State police, who are handling the investigation, are working with the District Attorney's Office to determine whether charges will be filed.
New Mexico has had two other fatal dog attacks in the past five years.
Bites from a relentless pack of dogs last December killed a 55-year-old man who had a history of seizures. He was found lying unconscious by the side of a road while the animals mauled him in the small community of Sundance, on Navajo Nation land in northwestern New Mexico.
In May 2006, a 53-year-old Gallina man was fatally mauled by dogs in northern New Mexico's Rio Arriba County.