By Tom Shaw and Judith Nygren
Omaha World – Herald
OMAHA, Neb. — Omaha Firefighter Stan Shearer and good Samaritan Stefan Ray know the power of rampaging pit bulls.
Quick actions by both men saved two victims from further mauling.
Although the attacks took place months apart and miles away from each other, Shearer and Ray are united by their heroic efforts. Shearer used a metal pole to restrain a pit bull. Ray used his bare hands.
The day after Shearer and other firefighters came to the rescue of a 48-year-old woman in Douglas County, Ray was honored by the city for saving a toddler last summer in eastern Omaha.
In the attack Sunday night, rescuers were called to help Lorrie Ellis, who had suffered severe bites to her neck and arms at 5922 S. 186th Ave. The attack began just before 6 p.m., reportedly after the dog had growled at an infant in the home. Ellis was attacked when she tried to distract the dog from the baby.
"The dog was still after the victim," Shearer said. "She had pinned him against the door of the bathroom. The dog’s body was in the hallway and the head was in the bathroom."
Ellis had retreated to the bathroom after being attacked by the large 3-year-old male pit bull. She was crying for help. Shouts could be heard in the background of the 911 call made by the girlfriend of the dog’s owner, who is Ellis’ son. The son and his girlfriend are the infant’s parents.
After arriving at the house, one firefighter held the door closed to keep the dog pinned. Shearer used a six-foot metal pole with a loop on the end of it in an attempt to secure the pit bull. But the loop wouldn’t go over the dog’s head completely because the door jamb was in the way.
Shearer had to bend down and slip the loop over the dog’s head while a third firefighter tightened the loop.
But that wasn’t the end of the ordeal. The dog thrashed wildly. Two firefighters had to wrestle with the dog to restrain it so Shearer and another firefighter with paramedic training could attend to Ellis. The struggle was so intense and the dog so strong that the metal pole was bent.
"It was still trying to fight up to the very end," Shearer said. "It would lay still for a minute and then it would thrash, trying to get away."
Later, authorities said the dog had died from strangulation while trying to get out of the restraining loop.
Shearer has responded to dog attacks before in his 22-year firefighter career. Nothing was quite like this, however.
"I’ve seen similar, but nothing quite as aggressive as this one. This one was fairly severe."
Ellis had surgery at the Nebraska Medical Center for critical injuries to her neck and arms. She was listed in fair condition Monday. Through a hospital spokesperson, the family declined interview requests.
Her son, the owner of the pit bull, could face misdemeanor citations for failing to vaccinate and license the dog, and for not having $100,000 liability insurance for the dog.
Each of the three misdemeanor citations carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine. The attack occurred outside the city limits, but Omaha’s dangerous dog rules apply to suburban areas of the county within three miles of Omaha.
The pit bull had bitten someone last November, but that incident was never reported to authorities, said Mark Langan of the Nebraska Humane Society.
Marty Bilek, chief deputy of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday that the pit bull, Ceasar, growled at the infant, then attacked Ellis. Before firefighters arrived, a neighbor jumped over the pit bull to get the infant out of a bedroom and to safety.
Bilek said the son and dog were staying at the house, and the girlfriend and infant were visiting.
The gruesome scene Sunday night was reminiscent of the attack that occurred last summer at 14th and Pine Streets in Omaha.
Ray, a 50-year-old restaurant worker, was showering June 25 when he saw his neighbor’s pit bull break loose. Putting on only his underwear, Ray sprinted outside to find the dog mauling Charlotte Blevins, another toddler and their mothers.
After helping to pull the dog off the women and children, he opened his door and shooed them inside: "Come this way, come this way."
After Charlotte was taken to Creighton University Medical Center, Ray and a police officer spotted a piece of Charlotte’s scalp on the children’s wagon. He put it on ice and the officer rushed it to the hospital, where it was reattached.
Wendy Blevins, Charlotte’s mother, said she would like to think she or anyone else would be just as heroic in a similar situation. But on that day, she said, only Ray came to the families’ aid.
"He’s a wonderful man. I love him dearly," said Wendy Blevins, who regularly takes her daughter, now 2, to visit Ray.
Blevins, whose daughter is healing and healthy but preparing for another surgery in March, said Sunday’s pit bull attack brought back memories of her family’s ordeal: "I get very sick."
But, she said, she also was relieved to learn that firefighters Sunday were properly equipped with the metal pole to restrain the dog.
On Wednesday, Blevins will testify before state lawmakers in support of a bill to increase the criminal penalties for owners of dangerous dogs that attack. Under Legislative Bill 494, owners of dogs already determined to be dangerous could be charged with a felony if they harm people. Owners now are charged with a misdemeanor.
In a ceremony, Mayor Mike Fahey declared Monday to be "Stefan Ray Day" in tribute to his heroics.
Ray said it’s "kind of cool" to have a day named after him. But, he added, "I’d do it all over again for nothing."
Shearer expressed similar humility when praised for the firefighters’ actions Sunday night.
"We just do what we have to do," he said.
World-Herald staff writers Susan Szalewski, Erin Grace and Kevin Cole contributed to this report.