Fatal animal attack returns to county agenda

Published 11:21 pm Thursday, August 1, 2019

Discussion about the fatal attack on Pantego resident Brenda Hamilton will continue at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners will continue discussion about hiring a third-party DNA expert to review the DNA testing previously performed by biologist Maureen Hickman of Western Carolina University, according to the agenda.

The case remains a mystery, as DNA results matched only with the DNA of domesticated dogs known to Hamilton and ruled at as responsible for the attack because so little of her DNA existed on the animals, and so little of the dogs’ were found on her. No DNA from bears, coyotes or red wolves was detected during the testing.

The attack took place in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, as Hamilton was taking a morning walk down Indian Run Road. She was found mostly submerged in water in a drainage ditch beside the road, victim to catastrophic injuries to her arms, legs and scalp.

Commissioners’ decision to bring a third-party DNA expert in stems from a desire to know exactly what animal attacked and, ultimately, killed Hamilton.

According to the agenda, Hickman recommended three third-party entities for independent review: the Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania; California Department of Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Sacramento, California; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon. Commissioners ruled out using the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab in an effort to maintain a third-party, independent study—U.S. Fish and Wildlife runs the red wolf recovery program in eastern North Carolina, and some have expressed concern that a red wolf or hybrid of the animal could have been responsible for Hamilton’s attack.

According to Brian Alligood, the county manager, Northeast Wildlife and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had not yet responded to inquiries about taking on the case at the time the agenda for Monday’s meeting was released.

Commissioner Hood Richardson suggested to others: Dr. Javier Monzon, assistant professor of biology at Pepperdine University and Dr. Fred Whitehurst, a retired supervisory special agent for the FBI crime lab.

Also on Monday night’s agenda are discussion of the sale of the Cooperage Tract, a waterfront lot in Belhaven that was donated to the county; discussion about where a new Beaufort County jail would be located if a proposed referendum for the jail does end up on the 2020 ballot; discussion about whether to the county, based on state law, plays a role in determining if the Sheriff’s Office can move employees from one division to another.

The meeting is open to the public and takes place at 5:30 p.m. at the new meeting room in the Financial Services Building, 136 W. Second St., Washington.