Owner of dogs in deadly Berkeley Co. attack kept animals despite past violations

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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) – The animal attack that left a man dead in Moncks Corner last year wasn’t the first time animal control had cited the dogs’ owner for violating the law.
In October, two pit bulls mauled 65-year-old David Eller to death after they escaped from their owner’s mobile home porch as Eller was walking through the Pleasant Oaks Mobile Home Park on Ayers Drive.
After the dogs charged at him, Eller attempted to defend himself by striking the dogs with his trash grabber tool and bag of trash, an affidavit states.
It was too late.
Multiple witnesses frantically alerted 9-1-1 dispatchers about the incident just before 5 p.m. on Oct. 31, asking for help “immediately” and warning the victim would not make it without intervention sooner.
Another one described the scene as something out of a horror film with everything covered in blood, the dogs injured Eller beyond recognition.
“It’s very unfortunate. It should have never happened,” Capt. Michael Crumley, head of the Animal Control Unit in the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, said.
Crumley responded to the “gruesome” scene that evening.
“Someone died. We can’t bring them back and it all could have been prevented if the owners had just been responsible and followed what the requirements were,” Crumley said.
South Carolina law requires pet owners to be responsible for keeping their animals from running loose off property, especially if they are considered “dangerous animals” unless “safely restrained.”
Section 47-3-710 defines a “dangerous animal” as one that attacks unprovoked or the “owner knows or reasonably should know has a propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked.”
It also allows for the courts to “destroy” the animal if they represent “a continuing threat of serious harm to human beings or domestic animals.”
After the attack, Crumley says the dogs were immediately taken by officers.
“We were very worried that those dogs would get back out and attack the first responders,” he said.
He says owner Shannan McCrackin voluntarily signed away the animals to be euthanized.
She and Kenneth Howard Swayne were later charged criminally for owning a dangerous animal that attacks or injures a human.
“I know he suffered,” Robert Dean, who identified himself as Eller’s brother at a bond hearing following the attack, said. “These people do not deserve bond; I just don’t want them out of jail. I want you to hit them as hard as you can.”
A judge granted them both surety bonds $20,000 or less.
Neither could be reached for comment.
History of code violations, aggressive behavior
Court records show McCrackin received two citations, at a different address in Berkeley County regarding animal code violations.
In 2020, authorities cited her for dogs running at large, and in 2021, they cited her for a dog bite causing harm to human health.
Both citations list fines, but only one ever got paid according to the summary court.
Police records show the attack in 2021 was so bad it sent the victim, Rachel Buster, to the hospital after one of the dogs named “Nova” got loose during an argument between her and McCrackin. A police report notes the dog attacked her in the front yard which caused her to “bleed profusely” from the head.
“Typically, if there’s an attack where there’s injury requiring hospitalization, then we would go through with the Rule to Show Cause, taking custody of the dogs,” Crumley said.
But that didn’t happen in this case, instead prosecutors abandoned it altogether.
McCrackin never had to pay the $500 fine either.
“There was no reason that that time with the one incident to go through the process,” Crumley said. “In large part, that would be because the victim in that case was not wanting to move forward with that incident.”
Capt. Michael Crumley, head of Animal Control within the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, responded to the deadly dog attack in Moncks Corner on Oct. 31 (Live 5)
In the five years leading up to Eller’s attack, deputies did not bring a Rule to Show Cause in Berkeley County.
“It only takes one person deciding not to participate, holding that owner accountable, to enable a scenario where the absolute worst-case scenario could happen and did happen,” attorney Brice Peper said.
Peper, who represents a number of clients in dog bite cases, says this happens more often than not.
Buster did not wish to speak on camera but indicated that she knew McCrackin personally over the phone.
“That can create some very complicated issues,” Peper said. “However, in an instance where that prosecution does not go forward. It really removes it from the animal control’s hands, it’s very difficult to prosecute a case without any victim participating and it also, if that happens, prohibits a judge from making a determination that is in fact a dangerous animal.”
SCDHEC, which tracks dog bites due to rabies concerns, collected more than 3,000 in 2021 and 2022 in the Lowcountry. Annually, the agency receives between 12,000 and 14,000 reports state-wide. (Live 5)
Dog bites in the Lowcountry
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control tracked more than 3,000 dog bites in the Lowcountry between 2021 and 2022.
In Berkeley County, Crumley says the animal control unit of five people fields more than 5,000 calls a year.
“It’s a constant challenge,” Crumley said.
“I think at its heart it’s a community issue,” Peper said. “It’s very important if these things do occur that the community makes sure we enforce these rules. And if we don’t enforce these rules that are on the books well then, what is the point of them? Then we’re going to have tragic instances like we had in Moncks Corner last year.”
The sheriff’s office relies on citizens to call in tips about animal code violations, according to Crumley.
He says they usually choose to educate owners before taking extreme measures.
The agency did later enforce a Rule to Show Cause after the deadly encounter in a different case, when a dog bit a 75-year-old man in the face just two weeks later.
“All we can do moving forward is look at it and learn from it,” Crumley said.
“If ever there was an instance in the Tri-County area that signaled we need to take this more seriously, we need to make sure this never happens again. I think this would be the textbook example of that,” Peper said.
As Berkeley County continues to grow, Crumley also says it’s now more important than ever for pet owners to take responsibility for their animals.
Copyright 2024 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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