Investigators, biologist to discuss fatal animal attack with commissioners

Published 7:35 pm Friday, July 5, 2019

Beaufort County Commissioners will hear from the experts in the case of the mauling death of Pungo Christian Academy teacher and Pantego resident Brenda Hamilton.

On Monday, at the Board of Commissioners regularly scheduled meeting, those involved in the investigation will discuss their findings. Scheduled to speak, according to the commissioners’ agenda are: Lt. Jim Vanlandingham, with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division; N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Deputy Director Kyle Briggs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Field Supervisor Pete Benjamin, with the Raleigh field office; and Maureen Hickman, the Western Carolina University biologist who tested DNA material gathered from Hamilton during the investigation.

The 77-year-old Hamilton was on an early-morning walk in February when she was attacked by an animal. Her wounds were extensive, and she died several days later at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. Since, law enforcement, with the help of Hickman, has attempted to determine what kind of animal attacked Hamilton. The only usable DNA collected at the scene was identified as that of domestic dog, but the two domestic dogs found nearby, and who often accompanied Hamilton on her walks, were found with little of Hamilton’s DNA on them and were further deemed not dangerous by a panel after a 10-day quarantine.

Commissioners have pressed for more detail, as residents have expressed their concerns the attack could have come from a wild animal, such as a coyote, red wolf or hybrids of either. The USFWS operates the red wolf recovery program five eastern North Carolina counties, of which Beaufort County is one. No DNA evidence on Hamilton, however, suggested a coyote or red wolf attack.

While the Hamilton case discussion is first on Monday night’s agenda, the issue will arise again at the tail end of the meeting. In May’s meeting of the Beaufort County Board, Commissioner Hood Richardson argued for an independent, third-party DNA consultant to be hired to evaluate the work done to date and/or recommend a third-party lab for testing, an idea commissioners supported in general, though they chose to wait for the Q & A with those involved in the investigation first. Richardson will request a vote on the hire a second time.